The Department of Energy is sending more money to solar projects. The department announced another $67 million for solar research and development recently. In accordance with the federal government’s usual tendencies regarding solar power, the money will go to researching and developing new storage techniques for Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). CSP solar systems concentrate and absorb heat from the sun to produce electricity.
Traditionally, the biggest obstacle to affordable, large-scale solar power has been storage: how to store the energy collected for use during the night and other non-peak hours. Recent innovations have turned solar heat collection and storage a viable option, and the DOE is jumping on the bandwagon. These monies will go to a handful of universities and companies to facilitate the advancement of CSP technology.
The idea is to make wide-scale solar power generation cost-effective and competitive. Today CSP electricity costs 13 to 16 cents/kWh, with no storage. The DOE would like to reduce that to less than 7 cents/kWh with 12-17 hours of storage by 2020. This is certainly an ambitious effort, and a big reason why the feds consistently favor large-scale solar projects. Yet, considering the inevitable remote location of CSP plants (i.e., deserts of the Southwest), I have yet to see the DOE tackle the problem of transmission, a big obstacle involving the effectiveness and readiness of these plants.