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Sometime ago I was fortunate enough to attend the Annual CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) Conference in Seville, Spain. I don't claim to be an expert in the field, but it’s always good to maintain a basic level of understanding of where the technology is going - after all it's going to save the world, isn’t it?
I was obviously newer to the game than most, which was evident as I scribbled down words blindly 'el suministro, solar térmico, tasa equidad' - fortunately there was an English translator on hand. However, it was the words I was expecting to hear that I didn't which shocked me. Words like: climate change, Clean Development Mechanism, Kyoto Protocol and the likes. Needless to say this has been playing on my mind for some time. It was weeks later that it hit me.
I was reading a blog from the Guardian entitled Plane Stupid's shock ads linking flights with polar bear deaths could fall flat, where the author has described the use of shock tactics to promote the cause and effect of short haul flights on climate change. So why weren't the people at the CSP conference standing at their stalls dressed as the grim reaper strangling kittens? Where was the doom and gloom?
Upon reflection this is a good thing. Essentially the issues of climate change - at least for people in the industry - has been normalised, leaving them the opportunity to get on with the more challenging part: working together to find clean alternatives to solving the power generation issues of the world. Largely, the conversation focused on the positives: increased efficiencies, lower capital costs, better reliability. At the end of day two of the conference I left feeling very positive about the fate of the world, and it was Europe who was leading the fight! Bring on day three!!! If there was a fourth day we could crack the Kennedy assassination, world hunger and what’s driving Jedward’s public appeal!
In fact the biggest surprise came on day three from an American speaker Dr Fred Morse. Not because he was an eloquent American, but because of the American rationale for why CSP. You see, CSP provides clean, reliable quality power that is capable of meeting not only base load power demand, but is perfectly matched to the peaks in demand as well. The costs are fixed - there is no fluctuating cost for direct natural irradiation like there is for oil, or liquefied natural gas.
The most interesting element, though, has been the impact of uncertainty. Obama's 2010 'New Energy for America' and the (regrettably feeble) Copenhagen talks put the previously picky American utility companies into feeding frenzy to gobble up anything renewable. Without knowing how much energy from renewable technologies they will have to provide they are hedging their bets and they have been on a programme of non-stop construction in anticipation. In fact, the uncertainty around oil price and the tax incentives offered in December 2010 have been the single biggest driver for improvements in renewable technology stateside in the last 30 years. (The real irony of the entire story is that the US were once leaders of the field having built the first CSP plant in 1984.)
Still, the one thing that is likely to stimulate more development in this field than any other came just before lunch on day two when someone referred to CSP as the ‘Green Cash Cow'. The banking fraternity started to salivate, and it wasn't for the mid-afternoon tapas!