Workers install a reflective parabolic trough at a solar thermal power plant in Spain.
Workers install a reflective parabolic trough at a solar thermal power plant in Spain. Volker Quaschning

Headline: Solar thermal power plants: Generating transformation knowledge with open data (Open CSP)


Solar thermal power plants are a controllable source of renewable electricity. In contrast to variable sources of renewable energy such as wind power and solar photovoltaics, solar thermal power plants enable electricity producers to deliver a climate-neutral electricity supply that is matched to demand. The development of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technologies is promising, but their expansion has been overshadowed by solar photovoltaics, which are more affordable but less reliable. This project will collect and publish data relating to the technology, costs, industry, funding mechanisms and financing of CSP projects worldwide with the aim of providing the research and policy community with a detailed, high-quality overview. Its findings will help to put CSP back on research and policy agendas and encourage the ongoing development and application this potentially important technology.

As climate targets become stricter, sources of intermittent electricity such as wind power and photovoltaics are expanding fast in Europe and worldwide. This trend has pushed the issue of power supply stability to the fore. How can we balance intermittent power sources in a way that creates a climate-neutral and stable system?

Solar thermal energy: a mature, efficient and reliable solution

Solar thermal power plants (CSP plants) are among the few controllable renewable energy generation solutions with practically unlimited potential. CSP technologies have advanced considerably over the last two decades. Backed by ongoing basic research and sinking electricity production costs, this technology has become more efficient and reliable as it matures. Despite this, CSP has long been overshadowed by photovoltaics, which have left other zero-emissions technologies in the dust as they ride a wave of falling costs. Following a brief hype in 2010, CSP all but vanished from the agendas of decision-makers in the electricity sector, and the technology has increasingly been neglected within the scientific community. Nowadays, CSP is rarely presented as a technology option in integrated assessment and electricity system models. As a result it does not figure in policy analysis scenarios, with negative consequences for the funding and promotion of CSP.

Database to provide important insights for future growth

The project "Open data for commercial CSP projects (Open CSP)" aims to develop a high-quality open access database of existing CSP plants in order to improve the accessibility of CSP for researchers and analysts. Making this data available will increase the likelihood that CSP will be realistically represented in models and scenarios and considered again as a policy option. The project's core focus is the compilation and publication of detailed and verified data covering all CSP plants worldwide from 1984 through to today as well as up-to-date information on all power plants under construction. In the first phase of the Open-CSP project, the research team will merge the two largest scientific CSP project databases: the SolarPACES database, administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the United States, and, administered by IASS. The resulting OPEN-CSP database will be updated twice annually in order to supply the scientific community and the public with up-to-date and verified data. These data, which will be published under a Creative Commons license, will enable IASS researchers to analyse market, industry and technology trends and to support the further development of CSP. The data will also be used in IASS projects to generate transformation knowledge for decision-makers, for example in the MUSTEC project.