Concentrated Solar Power to Electrify Europe




A scientific report shows that Europe can make both deep cuts in CO2 emissions and phase out nuclear power without compromising the dual needs of environmental sustainability and economic development in Europe and other regions. This can be achieved through a well-balanced mix of renewable technologies, which include the hitherto little known technology of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). With adequate incentives in place to encourage the development CSP plants and other renewable technologies, these renewable sources have the capability of reducing Europe’s CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 70% by the year 2050.


The idea: 

A recent study commissioned by the German Government shows how Europe’s growing electricity needs can be effectively met through a well-balanced mix of renewable technologies replacing old polluting power plants based on fossil fuels. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) must be a vital part of this energy mix. It is potentially far the biggest resource in the countries examined, which include Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East regions or EU-MENA.

CSP uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight, heat water or other liquids in order to produce high-temperature steam that can drive turbines and thereby power conventional electricity generators. Among solar technologies, CSP is the cheapest, and also the largest bulk producer of solar electricity, and because CSP uses a thermal phase the energy generated can be stored.

The report recommends using modern high- voltage DC transmission lines (HVDC) to transport the CSP generated electricity from the MENA region to the EU. With HVDC lines, only about 3% of the power is lost for each 1000 km.

By encouraging a mix of renewable technologies, fluctuations in the production of wind, photovoltaic and hydropower electricity can be compensated by sources that can provide power on demand – such as CSP, biomass and geothermal power. Under the scenario outlined in this study, fossil fired plants would by 2050 only provide energy for peak-time demand. This would reduce Europe’s CO2 emissions from electricity by 70% while effectively meeting growing energy needs and preserving fossil fuel stores for future generations.

The required mix of CSP and other renewable technologies cannot be fully developed under current policy conditions. Initial public start-up investment is needed, but not long-term subsidies - such as have been applied to fossil and nuclear energies - since the market shares of renewable energies will steadily grow and become cheaper due to learning and economies of scale.

The German study estimates that an initial investment of $75 Billion over 15 years will be required for renewables to compete with fossil fuels. This is equivalent to $10 per year for each electricity user in the EU-MENA regions. After 2050, electricity from renewable energies will be cheaper than fossil fuels even without counting the external societal costs of continued fossil fuel use. And the study estimates that the EU-MENA economies will have saved $250 billion on fossil fuels costs – again, not accounting for additional external societal costs associated with continued fossil fuel burning.