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 These 25 Advanced CSP & CST Technologies to Share $33 Million US DOE Funding


Posted onOctober 20, 2021Author

Solar reactors for high-temperature thermochemistry are among the breakthrough technologies to receive US DOE funding IMAGE@ Aldo Steinfield ETH: A two-step solar thermochemical CO2-splitting cycle using Zn/ZnO redox reactions

The Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2021 Photovoltaics and Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Funding Program (SETO FY21 PV and CSP) funds research and development projects that advance PV and CSP to help eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector.

On October 12, 2021, SETO announced that 40 projects were awarded $40 million. Twenty-five of those projects will receive almost $33 million to research and develop CSP technologies that help reduce costs and enable long-duration solar energy storage and carbon-free industrial processes in the United States. Read about the SETO FY21 PV projects.


Projects will work to:

Advance novel solar receivers and reactors;

Advance key components for pumped thermal-energy storage (PTES), such as compressors and heat exchangers;

Meet technoeconomic requirements for thermal energy storage, and prepare the innovations for manufacturing and commercialization;

Improve the reliability, operability, and productivity of systems, processes, and designs of existing CSP technologies;

Improve the design and operation of CSP plants by developing components and equipment for commercially relevant CSP systems that use conventional steam Rankine power cycles.

Small innovative projects in solar (SIPS) will focus on innovative and novel ideas that will dramatically lower the cost of CSP technologies to produce power or industrial heat. If successful, these technologies could move to the next stage of research and development after one year.


This funding program will help achieve SETO’s goal of lowering solar energy costs 50% by 2030 and bring solar into new markets. These projects will advance CSP components and technologies so CSP can replace fossil fuels in industrial applications; advance PTES technologies that can use electricity to charge thermal energy storage, either as standalone systems or integrated with CSP plants; advance technologies, training, and standards to reduce the costs of parabolic trough and power tower CSP plants; and help achieve a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 and a net-zero-emissions energy sector by 2050.


— Award and cost share amounts are subject to change pending negotiations –

Topic Area 2: Scalable Outputs for Leveraging Advanced Research on Receivers & Reactors (SOLAR R&R)


Project Name: Silicon-Carbide Receiver/Reactor by Additive Manufacturing for Concentrated Solar Thermocatalysis with Thermal Energy Storage

Location: Ithaca, NY

DOE Award Amount: $2.7 million

Cost Share: $700,000

Project Summary: Dimensional Energy is partnering with Heliogen to design, develop, and test a solar-driven chemical reactor that can produce sustainable jet fuel. The reactor will turn captured carbon dioxide and green hydrogen into fuel at a target price below $2 per gallon. The team will leverage an additively manufactured silicon carbide material that is stable at temperatures greater than 1,000°C to enable this technology. The concept integrates thermal energy storage into the receiver to enable continuous operation of the reactor.


Project Name: Ultra-High Operating Temperature Silicon-Carbide-Matrix Solar Thermal Air Receivers Enabled by Additive Manufacturing (Ultra-HOTSSTAR)

Location: Niskayuna, NY

DOE Award Amount: $2.6 million

Cost Share: $900,000

Project Summary: The Ultra-HOTSSTAR project applies GE’s high-temperature manufacturing technologies to design volumetric silicon carbide (SiC) receivers to efficiently convert sunlight to thermal energy. SiC enables solar receivers to go beyond the temperature limits of metal alloys and will allow the team to design receivers appropriate for very-high-temperature industrial processes. In collaboration with Heliogen, the team will use 3D-printing to optimize promising designs by improving manufacturability, lowering cost, and validating thermo-mechanical reliability under realistic conditions.


Project Name: Light Trapping, Enclosed Planar-Cavity Receiver for Heating Particles to Enable Low-Cost Energy Storage and Chemical Processes

Location: Golden, CO

DOE Award Amount: $3 million

Cost Share: $750,000

Project Summary: This project team will design, develop, and test a 100 kilowatt solar-thermal receiver that will deliver energy to particles at temperatures greater than 700°C. The innovative approach encloses the particles in a nickel-alloy receiver, shaped to “trap the light” by preventing energy from being re-emitted back to the environment. Light trapping will be a key component of the team’s efforts to design a receiver with thermal efficiency above 90%. The team will also use a coating to prevent the receiver structure from overheating, as well as a gas to get particles to behave like a fluid inside the receiver to maximize heat transfer.


Project Name: Scalable, Infiltration-Free Ceramic Matrix Composite (CMC) Manufacturing for Molten Salt Receiver  

Location: Palo Alto, CA

DOE Award Amount: $2.5 million

Cost Share: $600,000

Project Summary: This project will develop scalable manufacturing processes for CMCs that will aim to reduce the cost of these high-temperature-stable materials by more than three times below the cost of current commercial products. To achieve this they will develop production methods that avoid steps that take a long time and use costly materials. This technology will help address the need for scalable, corrosion-resistant receiver materials compatible with high-temperature molten chloride salts.


Project Name: Intensified Solar Reactor for Green Ammonia Manufacture and Gen3 Thermochemical Energy Storage

Location: Lubbock, TX

DOE Award Amount: $2 million

Cost Share: $500,000

Project Summary: This project team will develop a solar-thermal system to enable an ammonia synthesis reactor that does not require fossil fuel input. By using a process intensification strategy, the team will design an ammonia reactor that efficiently uses heat throughout the process to drive the ammonia reaction. The ammonia can be used either as part of a closed thermochemical energy storage system, for electricity production, or to produce ammonia as a commodity chemical. In this project, the team will focus on the design and validation of their heat-recovery technology that can enable significantly higher efficiency than previous designs.


Project Name: Design and Manufacturing of Transparent Refractory Insulation for Next-Generation Receivers

Location: Ann Arbor, MI

DOE Award Amount: $2.5 million

Cost Share: $600,000

Project Summary: The University of Michigan is partnering with AeroShield to develop a manufacturing strategy for a novel aerogel material developed by the project team. This material has the potential to substantially improve the efficiency of concentrating solar-thermal power parabolic trough collectors. The aerogel is transparent to the solar spectrum, and can be modified to absorb heat that would otherwise be lost from the receiver tube. The team plans to show the aerogel can enable efficient solar-thermal energy collection at 700°C, to enable parabolic trough collectors to couple with high-temperature and high-efficiency power cycles

Topic Area 3: Pumped Thermal Energy Storage (PTES)


Project Name: Advanced Ice Slurry Generation System for a Carbon Dioxide–Based Pumped Thermal Energy Storage System

Location: Akron, OH

DOE Award Amount: $1.2 million

Cost Share: $400,000

Project Summary: Echogen will develop a heat exchanger that will reduce the cost of using ice as a cold thermal reservoir in thermal energy storage systems. The team will accomplish this by simplifying the design of existing commercial systems that mechanically scrape ice from heat-transfer surfaces. This project could improve the cost and operational complexity of efficient thermal energy storage systems that use heat pumps to convert electricity into heat for long-duration storage.


Project Name: Characterization of Inlet Guide Vane Performance for Discharge Compressor Operation near the Dome of an sCO2 Pumped Heat Electricity Storage

Location: San Antonio, TX

DOE Award Amount: $500,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: This project will advance the design of inlet guide vanes (IGV), which are a critical component in supercritical carbon dioxide compressors. They are used to direct fluid flow in a compressor to optimize flow over the rotating blades. This project will integrate IGVs into a compressor to collect data on fluid-flow profiles that can be used across the industry. The compressor is a key component in charging and discharging cycles for long-duration thermal energy storage.


Project Name: Development of a Multiphase-Tolerant Turbine for Pumped Thermal Energy Storage

Location: San Antonio, TX

DOE Award Amount: $2.4 million

Cost Share: $600,000

Project Summary: Southwest Research Institute will design a turbine to maximize the efficiency of a carbon dioxide–based heat pump cycle, which is a promising technology to efficiently store electricity in long-duration thermal energy storage systems. This project will optimize turbine designs that will be able to tolerate constantly shifting fluid properties, since it will interact with both liquid and gas phases within the machine. This heat-pump turbine is a critical component to enable cost-effective thermal energy storage of electricity, with potential round-trip system efficiencies above 65%.

Topic Area 4a: Process Enhancement and Refinement For Operations, Reliability, and Maintenance (CSP PERFORM)


Project Name: Improved O&M Reliability for CSP Plants through Application of Steam Generator Damage Mechanisms Theory & Practice

Location: Charlotte, NC

DOE Award Amount: $1.9 million

Cost Share: $500,000

Project Summary: This project aims to improve the reliability, operability, and productivity of concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) plants by developing a “theory and practice” document for CSP steam generators, with input from technology end-users, such as plant operators, designers, and other stakeholders. This reference and guidance document will cover the evolution of damage in CSP steam cycle equipment and the necessary operations and maintenance practices to manage this damage. It will fully describe the mechanisms that lead to damage in each component and provide guidance on identifying issues and understanding how to manage and prevent its recurrence.


Project Name: Improved Design Standard for High Temperature Molten Nitrate Salt Tank Design

Location: Minneapolis, MN

DOE Award Amount: $2 million

Cost Share: $500,000

Project Summary: This project will develop a comprehensive design guide for thermal energy storage tanks for molten nitrate salt. The team will develop methodologies for the tank’s structural design, considering corrosion effects and other factors, and guidelines for material selection, welded joints, fatigue evaluation, the design of the tank foundation, and its leak detection systems, in addition to the effects of choosing internal versus external tank insulation. This guide could be a standard for nitrate salt tanks for developers to adopt and implement in new plant builds.


Project Name: CSP Plant Optimization Study for the California Power Market

Location: Broomfield, CO

DOE Award Amount: $1 million

Cost Share: $250,000

Project Summary: This project team will conduct a detailed systems study to determine the optimal configuration of CSP plants to support the emerging needs of the California market. Working with grid operators and utilities, like the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), this study will evaluate the technoeconomic potential of different CSP technologies and configurations, and the key challenges preventing deployment to lower the barriers preventing CSP project development and commercialization.


Project Name: Design Basis Document/Owners Technical Specification for Nitrate Salt Systems in CSP Projects

Location: Broomfield, CO

DOE Award Amount: $450,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: This project team will develop a design basis document for CSP systems that use nitrate salts and will make it widely available to the public. This document will collect key information on best practices and lessons learned from existing commercial CSP plants, and will provide a key tool to develop a common understanding among future power plant owners, engineering-procurement-construction (EPC) contractors, and operations and maintenance contractors. Focuses of the document will include receiver tube material decisions, avoidance of stress relaxation cracking, appropriate welding procedures, heat exchanger fabrication techniques, and heat trace design, among others. The project will engage a large portion of the CSP industry to ensure wide relevance of the document.


Project Name: Evaluation of High-Temperature Sensors for Molten Solar Salt Applications

Location: Lafayette, CO

DOE Award Amount: $1 million

Cost Share: $250,000

Project Summary: Sporian Microsystems will design and fabricate sensors for use in molten salt CSP plants. The sensors will be able to monitor flow rates, fluid pressures and chemical impurities, to ensure reliable plant operations. Sporian is teaming with three national labs to evaluate and validate the performance of these sensors. Precise measurements of molten salt flow, pressure, and chemical composition at operating temperature will provide CSP plant operators with information that can allow for enhanced control to improve performance and prolong the life of key CSP subcomponents.


Project Name: Performance Improvement in CSP Plant Operations

Location: Madison, WI

DOE Award Amount: $1.6 million

Cost Share: $500,000

Project Summary: This project will improve performance in existing CSP plants by creating a model of plant operations that will simulate real plants to allow training of CSP operators. This model will be capable of evaluating alternative operating and control strategies to improve plant performance and cost-effectiveness. CSP operators will be able to test control decisions in a low-risk but realistic model environment, which is especially beneficial for rare events that can have a significant effect on plant output. Data from operating commercial plants will be used to ensure the fidelity of plant emulation models.

Topic Area 4b: Research in Equipment For Optimized and Reliable Machinery (CSP REFORM)


Project Name: Performance Optimization of Sold Particle TES Heat Exchanger by Combining Benefit of Extended Surfaces and Particle Fluidization

Location: Hampton, NH

DOE Award Amount: $1.9 million

Cost Share: $500,000

Project Summary: Solid particles have several advantages over conventional molten nitrate salts as a heat-transfer media in CSP tower systems. For a particle system to work with a steam Rankine power cycle, new designs for particle-to-steam heat exchangers are needed. This project team will design and develop such a heat exchanger utilizing both particle fluidization and extended surface fins to maximize the heat transfer performance of the component. The team will build and test a prototype heat exchanger to validate performance models and operability.

Topic Area 5b: Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS) – CSP


Project Name: Concentrated Solar Thermal Fuels Production by Electric Field Enhanced Two-Step Gas Splitting

Location: Tempe, AZ

DOE Award Amount: $300,000

Cost Share: $75,000

Project Summary: This team will develop a novel solar thermochemical cycle for the production of renewable fuels from carbon dioxide (CO2). Current concepts that thermally activate CO2 are limited by the extreme temperatures (around 1,500°C) needed to execute the reaction. The team will design a prototype reactor that applies a small voltage to cerium oxide immersed in a molten salt to generate an electric field, which lowers the required temperature for the reaction. The project targets a 600°C reduction in the CO2 splitting temperature, making the process feasible for integration in a concentrating solar-thermal power plant.


Project Name: Technology for Electrically Enhanced Thermochemical Hydrogen

Location: Tempe, AZ

DOE Award Amount: $400,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: The project team will develop and test a thermo-electrochemical process to produce “green” hydrogen from steam with solar energy. This approach combines high-temperature solar-thermochemical water splitting (TCWS) with electrochemical pumping of hydrogen through a proton conducting membrane. This mitigates or eliminates many of the key challenges to implementing TCWS. The technology will enable low-cost solar-to-hydrogen efficiencies that exceed 25% (theoretical limit > 50%).


Project Name: In-Operando Thermal Transport Characterization of Moving Particle Bed Heat Exchanger

Location: San Diego, CA

DOE Award Amount: $400,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: This project team will integrate a novel heat-transfer measurement technique into an operating 1-megawatt heat exchanger at Sandia National Laboratories. The technique measures a dynamic surface radiation signal to determine thermal transport rates at different distances from the surface. The technique will be used to observe both near-wall and bulk-particle heat-transport rates in a particle-to–supercritical carbon dioxide heat exchanger. The heat exchanger is a key component in Sandia’s Generation 3 particle pilot plant.


Project Name: High-Temperature Permanent Magnet-Biased Active Magnetic Bearing Development for Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Machinery Applications

Location: San Antonio, TX

DOE Award Amount: $400,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: This project seeks to identify and test magnetic materials that can be used for bearings in concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) plants that use a supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) power cycle and operate at temperatures higher than 540°C. The team will design permanent magnet-biased active magnetic bearings (PM-AMBs), an enabling technology for hermetic sCO2 machinery, which is expected to increase cycle efficiency. PM-AMBs may have advantages over gas bearings, including greater tolerance to misalignment, reduced wear, tunability, and diagnostic capabilities. The team will also test key materials for compatibility to exposure in a high-temperature CO2 environment. Machine layouts with PM-AMBs will be developed to demonstrate feasibility.


Project Name: Development and Experimental Optimization of High-Temperature Modeling Tools and Methods for Concentrated Solar Power Particle Systems

Location: Dayton, OH

DOE Award Amount: $400,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: Accurately modeling flow and heat transfer of solid particles in next-generation CSP systems is challenging compared to conventional systems that use liquid heat transfer fluids. The University of Dayton will perform a variety of particle flow and heat transfer experiments to develop and validate a broadly applicable computational model that can be used by researchers working on particle-based systems. DCS Computing will integrate the validated framework into a modeling toolkit. If successful, a broad range of researchers and technology developers could use the modeling tools to study their system without further fundamental property measurements.


Project Name: Spectral and Temperature-Dependent Optical Metrology: Towards More Robust, Effective and Durable Materials for Concentrated Solar Power

Location: Ann Arbor, MI

DOE Award Amount: $200,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: This project team will explore the impact of temperature on the optical properties of materials relevant to CSP. Traditional optical spectroscopy measurements focus on room-temperature properties, which may not be representative of properties at high temperature. This team will develop standardized spectroscopic measurement techniques, protocols, and procedures to determine radiative properties of materials. They will incorporate their data into a digitized database of optical properties and utilize both experimental data and predictive modeling tools.


Project Name: Development of Gas Bearings for Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Recompression Brayton Cycle

Location: Las Vegas, NV

DOE Award Amount: $200,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: The project team will explore using porous graphite in the gas bearings that support the turbine shaft of supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) cycle turbomachinery. Gas bearings inject high-pressure gas to avoid friction caused by rotation of the turbine shaft, which lowers efficiency. They will test their bearings in a high-pressure and high-temperature CO2 gas environment to validate their performance. If successful, these bearings allow for nearly frictionless operation of the turbomachinery, minimizing wear and simplifying system operation, which would reduce maintenance costs and improve cycle efficiency.


Project Name: Innovative Technology for Continuous, Online (In Situ) Monitoring of Corrosivity of Molten Salts to Prevent Catastrophic Failure of Solar Thermal Plants

Location: Reno, NV

DOE Award Amount: $400,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: This project team will develop and evaluate an innovative sensor for molten chloride salts based on the measuring “optical basicity,” which represents the corrosivity of the fluid. The team will develop and validate the concept, and design an online monitoring system that could be used in commercial plants.


Project Name: Low-Cost Heliostat for High-Flux Small-Area Receivers

Location: Madison, WI

DOE Award Amount: $300,000

Cost Share: $100,000

Project Summary: This project team will design a novel heliostat for small solar fields that may drastically reduce the component cost compared to commercial systems. The concept uses a two-step design in which a first stage of reflection is accomplished via a set of rotating heliostats that share a common set of tracking drives, enabling significant cost reduction. A second stage of stationary mirrors concentrates solar light on the receiver.

Learn more about the SETO FY21 PV and CSP funding program and the project selections in the other topics.


Morocco Pioneers PV with Thermal Storage at 800 MW 

Midelt CSP Project

Morocco’s 800 MW solar hybrid project at Midelt will be the first solar project in the world to include thermal (heat) storage of PV (Photovoltaic) as well as CSP (Concentrated Solar Power). Midelt’s first-of-a-kind hybrid solar and shared storage project will deliver dispatchable solar at 7 cents per kWh.

How colocated PV and CSP would store solar energy in the molten salts thermal energy storage of a CSP plant. Illustration  @DLR/Bauer (ADAPTED): from Experimental and Numerical Investigation of a 4 MWh High Temperature Molten Salt Thermocline Storage System with Filler

To date, when PV solar projects have included storage, they have only been paired with batteries. But at Midelt the solar energy from not just the CSP plant, but also from the PV plant will be, for the first time, stored in the thermal energy storage of the CSP portion of the project. CSP projects built today routinely include 10 or more hours of thermal energy storage in tanks of low cost molten salts.

MASEN Technical Director Abderrahim Jamrani told utilities and grid regulators at a forum on the grid value of CSP that MASEN’s choice of CSP at the Noor I, II and III plants was made at a time when Morocco was paying up to 30 cents per kWh for fuel oil electricity. The nation of 36 million needs five hours of power after dark and is on track to meet its target to have 52% renewable electricity by 2030.


Originally the plan for Midelt was to include PV for daytime with a little battery backup for transient daytime needs and for the CSP to include five hours of thermal storage to cover the evening peak. But as PV prices dropped, the storage plan changed.

“If we limit the number of storage hours, batteries can win. But in our studies we find we need also CSP to complete the mix, as we need five hours after dark,” Jamrani said. “The cost of PV was declining so fast that now a share in the thermal energy storage of CSP will also come from PV.”

The Moroccan project marks the first time that the PV in a hybrid solar project with CSP will also charge the thermal energy storage incorporated in the CSP power block.

TSK Flagsol technical director Mark Schmitz described the approach his firm proposes for Midelt: “The CSP and PV are combined, so the two can act independently, each feeding to the grid, but we can also integrate them both and connect the two, by means of an electric heater,” he said.

“So the parabolic trough plant is able to deliver temperatures of about 400 °C before the heat transfer fluid reaches its limits. However, the solar salts in the thermal storage tank can take higher temperatures, and also the steam turbine loves more temperature, so we applied a concept developed a couple of years ago of taking excess power from the PV and putting it into the thermal storage.”

The operating temperature of parabolic trough CSP is limited by the heat transfer fluid circulating through its solar field. Normally, the resulting temperature of the thermal storage is at an even slightly lower level (How CSP’s thermal energy storage works). But this limit can be overcome by electrically heating the molten salts, which can take temperatures up to around 565 °C, before feeding them into the storage tank.

This idea of colocating PV and CSP and sharing the CSP thermal storage is one that Schmitz believes will be widely applicable as energy grids become more saturated with renewables, not just Morocco’s, and as therefor more regulators move from lowest cost to “best fit” procurement.

“If you are operating a grid which is still mostly based on carbon, then merely replacing as many kilowatt hours as you can with green energy is what you do; you just dump the PV in as much as you can. But at a certain point you will reach a level where there is just too much PV in the grid during sunny hours,” he said.

“So the idea was instead of just dumping this energy, just feed it into the already existing tanks with the CSP. So now we can turn on the turbine and we can exactly feed into the grid what is missing at the time when it is missing.”

Morocco’s clean energy agency MASEN is executing a national renewable policy with an eye on how a future grid can operate reliably with dispatchable firm electricity from 100% renewables.

CSP projects built today routinely include 10 or more hours of thermal energy storage in low cost tanks of molten salts IMAGE@CSPFocus

“If we imagined our energy all coming from renewables – even 10 years ago we could not have imagined it,” Jamrani commented. “And as we are making our studies for 2050 we now can see that we can really achieve 100% renewable in our country.”

The Midelt hybrid solar project will be one quarter state owned, by Morocco’s energy agency MASEN, with the remaining three quarters owned by a consortium comprising EDF EN (35%), Masdar (30%), and Green of Africa (10%). Masdar itself is also government-owned as a strategic government initiative by Abu Dhabi to invest, incubate and grow a renewable energy industry domestically and in other nations.

Climate Policy that Actually Works: How Morocco is Meeting its Clean Energy Goals

Posted onSeptember 21, 2018AuthorSusan Kraemer

The Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN) is actually a full “one stop shop” for planning to building clean energy. 

Morocco’s secret: MASEN (the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy) is actually a renewable energy “one stop shop” – from climate policy to completed projects IMAGE @MASEN

An interview reveals Morocco’s secret: MASEN (the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy) is actually a renewable energy “one stop shop” – starting with climate policy, through needs assessment, planning, infrastructure development and finally structuring to mobilize project finance.

At the 2015 Paris Agreement, King Mohammed VI announced Morocco’s policy to get 52% of its electric installed capacity from renewables by 2030. MASEN is in charge of getting 2 gigawatts (GW) of solar installed between PV and  CSP along with about 2 GW of wind power to achieve this ambitious objective for its population of 35 million. With the completion of NOOR III, Morocco has reached it’s first half-gigawatt of CSP (NOOR I, II and III).

SolarPACES reporter Susan Kraemer spoke with Hicham Bouzekri, who is Director of R&D and Industrial Integration at MASEN to find out why Morocco’s climate plan for renewable development works so well.

SK: Not only are Morocco’s renewable energy plans really ambitious, but they are being achieved. There are no roadblocks. How do you manage to do that?

HB: The resistance to renewable energy typically has behind it certain interests, for example if in the development of renewable energy you are closing down some fossil fuel plants, you would expect some resistance.

In Morocco the renewable energy capacity coming online is not competing or trying to replace existing capacity but is needed because Morocco is a net importer of electricity from our neighboring countries. So as renewable energy comes online, we see a decrease in energy from abroad. All the solar projects that have been developed and are being developed supply a particular demand.

So the technology choice Morocco has made is in line with market needs. Morocco’s economy is in growth. Electricity demand grows by 5 to 7% every year so there is a window of opportunity for renewable energy to meet that excess demand. This situation is pretty unique to Morocco. So the market dynamics allows the development strategy to succeed. The grid owner in Morocco has specified a particular need for grid energy to supply the demand after the sunset.

SK: So did Morocco choose CSP for its energy storage; because with all the PV you are adding for days, you will need night solar, and CSP can store solar for night?

HB: You are familiar with the duck curve in California, where so much electricity is PV peaking in midday, whereas the evening peak has no renewable generation to match it. Morocco opted for CSP technology as it has the most competitive storage option of renewable energy technology for the time being.

MASEN has made the choice to be technology agnostic. This is important.The competitiveness of renewable technology is important. So the first project is CSP with molten salts storage.

As technology becomes more competitive, we could see batteries entering into the market; who knows what the next two or three years of battery prices will be. But currently batteries are not cheaper.

SK: But what exactly is Morocco doing differently so that renewable development is actually getting built according to plan? In CSP alone, just with Noor, MASEN has nearly half the CSP the DOE got through during the Obama years; 1.3 GW. ARENA hasn’t capitalized on Australia’s CSP potential. California saw nearly all the CSP the BLM approved drop out. What’s your secret?

HB: The examples that you have given as equivalent of MASEN in other countries; they are not complete, in that the DOE or BLM in the US and ARENA in Australia are regulating agencies. MASEN is an operating entity in Morocco that takes care of everything. Having a “one-stop shop” allows you to lift many of these roadblocks that have appeared in other countries.

Morocco created a dedicated agency for the development of renewable energy. MASEN streamlines renewable energy projects by understanding the need for a project, taking charge of all the structuring, the infrastructure development, the permitting.

We also structure the project from a financial standpoint, and mobilize the financing. So MASEN has been able to raise funds from international institutions like the European Development Bank, the World Bank, the African Development Bank. These institutions are interested in funding if a project is well structured.

Then the developer signs a “take or pay” agreement with the electricity company, which means that the developer has a guarantee that the electricity will be off-taken independently off the actual need on the grid.

The electricity company commits to pay for that electricity even if they don’t take it. Morocco benefits from increasing demand in electricity, so we still have a margin by which we can guarantee that the electricity will be needed.

There is always a risk in new energy development, that has to be shouldered by all stakeholders. MASEN has set a goal to make green electricity as competitive as possible. You can only do that by lowering the risk perception from stakeholders.

And lastly, MASEN is a shareholder in each project, which guarantees to all stakeholders that the project will get built and last for all 20 years that the funding is required for.

SK: That is all very different! So MASEN’s “one stop shop” would be an effective climate policy model for other countries to follow.

HB: Yes. MASEN has been quite actually pleased to see a lot of interest from other African countries. It is always easy when you have a rich country that develops renewables. But that doesn’t create as much of a call to action as when African countries are succeeding, like we are.

We just put out a map of the other African countries that we have signed a pending memorandum of agreement with, and we are helping shape their renewable energy agenda.

Some of the partnerships have gone faster into actual projects that we are actually helping put together. MASEN’s success in renewable energy is creating inspiration in other African countries and this is an important role.

SK: If these other African countries could duplicate MASEN’s financial structuring, would they also be able to access these international sources of funding?

HB: That’s exactly the idea: to export our model of how you can mobilize international Green funds, and structure a project where it is a viable, sustainable model for developing renewable projects in your country.

CSP technology supply chain potential for Morocco Potential CSP technology supply chain for Morocco. IMAGE @MASEN

SK: What about the economic benefits?

HB: We see renewable energy as an opportunity for technology transfer to Moroccan companies. We’ve seen an inflow of investment from technology providers in Morocco setting up shop. It’s also a development mechanism for Moroccan industry in other technology sectors who have embraced renewable energy opportunities.

We see also an opportunity for training and technology developments in R&D. Renewable energy not only fights climate change but is also an opportunity for technology development and job creation and technology transfer for countries that need it most. So Morocco adopted a holistic approach. We’re not looking at green electrons alone.

By taking this holistic approach we believe that renewable energy is an opportunity for development in Morocco and to transfer too, as we collaborate with many African countries who are also looking into renewable energy as a means of job creation and to develop local industries.

SK:Are you interested in exporting power, too? Grid balancing renewables over a wider area?

HB: Yes, the wider the grid the more likely that renewable energy lapses in one region can be covered by renewable energy surpluses in another.

So we need a very solid grid connection that allows you to transport this electricity cheaply, producing renewable energy where it is most competitive: putting it in places where you have the highest resource availability. Ultimately renewable energy has to compete on the existing markets. So competitiveness is the key to opening new markets.

The most promising market is to our South; sending renewable energy to where it’s really needed. The grid coverage in southern countries is not great. So Morocco is actually investing in bringing very high voltage grid connections to Mauritania and from there to the Western African nations. This is an ongoing project, not yet connected up. But we do foresee that happening in the coming few years.

Fred Morse: Go from Lowest Cost to Best Fit for a 100% Carbon Free Grid

Posted onApril 3, 2020AuthorSusan Kraemer

IMAGE@Abengoa Solar thermal energy storage tanks at the 280 MW Solana CSP+TES project in Arizona (Two storage tanks would fit in a football field)

CSP+TES match a 100% clean grid “best fit” needs – flexibility, reliability, dispatchability, durability – but utilities don’t know how to procure them

It is common wisdom in the climate and clean energy world that the electric grid will need new storage resources to cover the “last mile” to get to 100% carbon-free electricity. These must be flexible, reliable, dispatchable and durable over the long term. Yet, despite more and more 100% carbon-free mandates, little is happening in policy to jumpstart markets to get there by deadline.

To remedy this lack; “the King of CSP” Fred Morse put together a comprehensive forum on Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) with thermal energy storage (CSP+TES) to help US stakeholders understand the role it could play.

Over a year in the making, the resulting forum; The Role of Concentrating Solar Power in the Evolving Energy Market in the Western U.S., held in California in February 2020, brought together over 50 western US utility representatives, grid operators, regulators and policymakers, with 20 international CSP experts, developers, consultants, owners and operators.


SK – At the Department of Energy, you pioneered the solar energy program for Jimmy Carter, and most recently you were US Senior Advisor to Spanish CSP developer Abengoa. As a solar industry veteran, you understand policy issues from both sides. How did you ensure this real exchange of knowledge?

FM – I brought together the CEOs of the two largest grids in the West; ERCOT and CAISO, the CEO of the Western Energy Coordination Council, senior vice presidents of many of the western utilities, and representatives from several public utility commissions.

Each utility and grid operator speaker was asked to cover specific topics. The moderators met first with their panel speakers to make sure the session objectives were clear. And each CSP speaker was given guidance on which aspect of CSP plants they should cover.

I wanted them to converge on the “aha!” moment – that the capabilities of CSP+TES align well with the evolving needs of utilities and grid operators.

 Already, and perhaps for the next decade, molten salt storage will likely be the lowest cost option for long-duration energy storage.

For example, Miguel Romero, VP of Energy Supply at SDG&E told the forum that 4-8 hours will not cut it – we need long-duration storage. In the United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) issued a request for carbon free generation 24 hours a day, open to any technology – essentially saying; bid whatever you want.

I knew that the CEO of ACWA Power, Paddy Padmanathan found that it was too expensive to meet this request with PV and batteries, and instead proposed a hybrid; 250 MW PV and 700 MW CSP+TES. He won the bid at a record 7.3 cents/kWh.

SK – What were your conclusions?

FM – One was that while the capabilities of CSP+TES match the needs of the utilities and the grid operators, the flexibility, reliability, dispatchability, durability – all the “abilities” for best fit – but the utilities really don’t know how they are going to procure them.

A new procurement approach is needed because lowest cost is no longer the winning factor. Utilities want to buy CSP + TES but they don’t know how. They need to figure that out.

Of course, utilities’ “best fit” needs vary. Some might need the ability to operate 24 hours a day, or to achieve a certain ramp rate at a specific time, or flexibility in design, or the ability to hybridize with PV or with a small amount of natural gas or biogas.

Let’s consider the state of New Mexico. The Governor and the legislature decided that New Mexico’s electricity will be carbon free by 2045. I assume regulators there asked the utilities for their plan: How will you meet your demand as you phase out New Mexico’s large coal and natural gas plants. What would you use instead? All of the public regulatory commissions, including in California, are asking for a plan, for how you get to these new targets.

IMAGE@Abengoa 280 MW Solana  – first utility-scale CSP+TES in the US 

SK – So how can we change from “lowest cost” to a new “best fit” procurement in the US?

FM – One way might be for the regulated utilities to present a revised bid approach to their regulators who would have to approve it – that is no longer based on lowest cost. The public utilities might do the same with their Board of Directors.

Regulators might hold a hearing to find out how resources could be acquired that meet the evolving needs of the grid and the utility, where those who represent PV and batteries, wind, CSP+TES and others will make their case. 

Commissioners could ask about their capabilities; how fast can you ramp up and down; can you control voltage and regulate frequency; can you operate and follow demand 24 hours a day – and so on. And maybe during that hearing they would ask the utilities if they have any ideas on how to procure such capabilities.

Perhaps the Department of Energy could help develop a model request for proposal (RFP) and a model power purchase agreement (PPA) to satisfy this need, by including people familiar with utility bids and lawyers who negotiate PPAs.

And to help utilities accurately model CSP+TES dispatchability and flexibility of design – for example, from peaking, to 24-hour load following – we had somebody from DOE’s renewable energy laboratory, NREL, talk about modeling and to let them know that NREL could help them properly model CSP+TES if needed.

It’s clear that with the dramatic cost reductions occurring in CSP, as well as solar PV and wind – with and without storage, we will soon be operating our grids with almost all zero-marginal energy cost resources. At that point, basing merit order dispatch on fuel costs no longer makes sense.

We should create new dispatch priorities based on best fit values, such as lowest carbon emissions, or the marginal value of flexibility. Work is underway to devise these new dispatch algorithms.

SK – I was surprised to hear from LADWP that nobody’s even bidding CSP anymore. Why, do you think?

FM – I’ve not read LADWP’s procurement document, but maybe they looked for lowest cost renewables, rather than best fit. As soon as you have a meaningful RFP for something that CSP with storage could provide, bids will appear. I don’t think ACWA is interested in the US, but most of the companies now active globally will bid. If the market is large enough, I would expect some newcomers as well. And given the benefits of CSP/PV hybrids, if I were a PV company and making very little profit in today’s race to the bottom, maybe I’d team up with a CSP company.

I participated in the NREL Best Practices project which will soon issue a report that should help all new CSP plants come online with far fewer issues than earlier plants had. The US market will benefit from this knowledge. Furthermore, people with CSP expertise and knowledge are moving around, bringing their experience with them. When I went to visit the Noor I, II, and III projects in Morocco, I saw friends from Abengoa who now work for ACWA Power.

SK – Might unrealistic deadlines be an obstacle?

FM – Yes, scheduling is often an issue with power plants. Because both demand and resources can change quickly, utilities prefer plants that can be built quickly. Compared with PV, building a CSP plant is not quick. You have to design to meet utilities’ specific needs, find and control a suitable site, permit the plant on that site, arrange access to the transmission grid, and finance the plant (which often is quite complex).

And construction time is an issue. Barbara Lockwood, SVP of Public Policy at APS brought up construction time. She wondered if a better option is smaller plants that could be built faster. I believe that as more CSP+TES plants are built and as plants become standardized, this could happen.

IMAGE@Hank Price  1 square mile CSP+TES peaker plants cost analysis to replace gas peaker plants

SK – How about costs? Can longer PPA contracts like ACWA Power’s 35-year PPA with DEWA help?

FM – Yes, cost is an issue. A developer could spend tens of millions of dollars on these steps, before they even had a PPA. That is all money at risk. And yes, longer-term PPAs will get the price down. In a perfect world, longer PPAs are better than shorter ones, just as an ample construction schedule is better than an unrealistic one.

But let’s think about the utilities’ perspective. No utility wants a 35-year PPA. For them, shorter is better because they face uncertainty in demand and in future resource options and prices; 35 years is a long time horizon. Utilities don’t even like PPAs because they show up on their books as debt.

One way to get around this issue is the build, own, operate and transfer approach; BOOT. The developer agrees to ultimately transfer plant ownership to the utility. The CSP plant would then be an asset and could earn a return on its investment.

Another potential solution could be something more states are considering – performance-based regulation for utilities; where regulators establish performance metrics, improved grid reliability or reduced carbon emissions, and utilities earn a rate of return based on their accomplishment of those goals.

SK – They sound like great solutions. What’s your overall prescription to re-start a US CSP market, but this time; with storage?

FM – Assuming that utilities and regulators find an effective way to procure the needed services that CSP+TES could provide, a combination of state and federal policies are needed, at least at the beginning of the re-started market. States should continue sales and property tax exclusions and establish effective solar development zones. And the federal government should extend the 30% investment tax credit for as long as politically possible and make it a grant, continue the DOE loan guarantee program, and continue accelerated depreciation.

I like what MASEN did in Morocco. They identified a suitable area large enough for the capacity they needed; permitted that site and built the needed infrastructure, including transmission access. Then they said bid and build your CSP here. That reduces the cost to the developer and results in lower energy price. And this saves considerable time.

I would like to see a study done on MASEN’s approach for the US. That is one of the things I’m pushing for. Start by looking at the many areas that have already been identified by the Bureau of Land Management throughout the southwest – solar energy zones where solar power plants should be located. Perhaps some states could apply the MASEN approach to these areas.

And there is something new that is worth studying. Let’s explore a possible role for the Western Area Power Authority, WAPA, which built and owned the big hydro energy projects in the old days of big federal investment in energy. Maybe WAPA could have a role in purchasing and transmitting the output from solar power plants in those solar zones throughout the southwest.

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