CSP plants could run at 80% capacity (or better) throughout the year
The big advantage here is that the heated liquid itself can also be seen as an energy storage system.
The researchers say that a network of CSP power plants spread out over a large area makes sure that even if the sun doesn’t shine for long periods of time, the system is still able to support large-scale energy needs by dispatching energy where it is needed.
This is the first detailed study of its kind to establish that it is indeed possible to build a power grid which relies primarily on solar energy and still provides reliable electricity around the clock, day at night, and throughout the year. Moreover, the costs per kWh might start dropping dramatically over the next few years.
“The costs of CSP, even in their least cost configuration, are currently higher than gas (roughly 10 cents per kWh, compared to about 5 cents),” Patt told us. “But that will almost certainly change if CSP becomes more mainstream, and it is reasonable to imagine that it will be as cheap as gas within the next 10 to 15 years. In a sense, our latest results provide a reason for energy system planners to push CSP to the point where this [cost reduction] will happen.”