A company in Spain celebrated an historic moment for the solar industry: Torresol’s 19.9 MW concentrating solar power plant became the first ever to generate uninterrupted electricity for 24 hours straight.

The plant uses a Power Tower design which features a field of 2,650 mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto a boiler in a central receiver tower. The plant also utilizes molten salt as a heat-transfer fluid that allows the plant to generate electricity when there’s no sunlight. After commissioning in May 2011, the plant was finally ready to operate at full-blast in late June and benefited from a particularly sunny stretch of weather, according to Diego Ramirez, director of production at Torresol.

“The high performance of the installations coincided with several days of excellent solar radiation, which made it possible for the hot-salt storage tank to reach full capacity,” Ramirez explains.

Big milestones for Power Tower technology, which is still a very nascent technology compared to the more-mature parabolic troughs. There are only a few operating commercial-scale plants around the world, and Torresol’s is the only one with a 15-hour molten salt storage capability.


In the lead up to another 15% reduction in Germany’s feed-in tariff (the price paid for solar electricity fed into the grid), the German solar industry finished 2011 off with a bang — installing 3,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic systems in December.

Let’s put those figures in perspective: In just one month, Germany installed almost twice as many megawatts of solar than the entire U.S. developed during all of 2011. Preliminary figures show Germany ended the year with roughly 7,500 MW of installations; the U.S. ended up with about 1,700 megawatts, according to GTM Research.

Oh, and I should probably mention that the Germans installed all of that solar at almost half the price. The average price of an installed solar system in Germany came to $2.80 in the third quarter of 2011. In the U.S., it was about $5.20 in the third quarter.

Why the disparity? The Germans have a much more mature solar market. The country’s simple, long-term feed-in tariff makes financing projects less expensive, and has created a sophisticated supply chain that allows companies to source product, generate leads and get systems on rooftops efficiently.

Some criticize feed-in tariffs for not creating a “market” like we imagine in the U.S. The activity we saw at the end of 2011 is representative of what happens every year in Germany: because the incentives are dropped down to meet market pricing, there is always a rush in December to install systems quickly. But isn’t that what we do in the U.S. when tax credits and rebates are about to expire?

It’s fair to criticize feed-in tariffs like those in Spain and the Czech Republic which caused an unsustainable boom before crashing down. But when looking at the numbers and pricing that the German solar market continues to post, there’s still a very compelling argument for states and municipalities to consider moderate, long-term pricing mechanisms like feed-in tariffs

Us peak demand is probably up around 850 GW summer. Installed at optimal locations solar PV is 20% of nameplate. Solar Thermal can as high as 60. If that number I said seems ridiculously high – remember in 20 years that would only be 400 Gw or around 100 GW of power tops with today’s tech – at which point (20 year mark) a good deal of it would be needed to replace existing systems too.

Feed in tariffs can fail badly, as you note about Spain and the Czech Republic.

The price tells the story: $2.80 per Watt. Wow! Imagine how fast our desert Southwest would fill with PV at that price!


With the kind of sustained and predictable insolation that most of the US Southwest gets, it would be a tremendous benefit to focus on solar PV and thermal, cut back on new wind farms, and aggressively shut down the worst coal plants in the area.
Five years of concerted effort towards those goals should pay a great many local dividends including jobs

Actually, there is a world price (range) for installed solar PV. One has to properly account for all the various incentives + tax breaks. In Germany the taxpayers are subsidizing ratepayers. Even so only the fortunate (and rich) can afford a roof top sized solar PV installation. Many live in apartments (flats) without the opportunity for this investment.

Not clear that by anybody’s notion of economics this is equitable; it seems to me a quite expensive way to generate electricity. Germans already pay the second highest rates in Europe (but then Germans are, on average, quite prosperous so maybe it doesn’t matter).

It’s a great irony that it’s Germany who’s leading on solar when their average insolation is not all that good.>>>>
It should be the US with its large flat roofs, sprawling parking lots, vast sunny states and insatiable demand for power and cooling that should be the world’s Solar Champion. Perhaps laying back on the great potential that could be exponential.

Well, since everybody who breathes is subsidizing fossil fuels by bearing the burden of pollution on their bodies and wallets, a feed-in tariff is the LEAST the government can do to try and level out the playing field. How about we put a price on each ton of mercury, soot, fly ash, NO2, SO2, particulate matter, ozone and CO2 emitted instead? It would be more difficult to manage, but it would correct the horrendous Market Failures that all the externalities of pollution present.

Really, an expensive way to generate electricity?

At $3 per watt, the cost of solar is now less than half and maybe only a fourth or fifth of the start-up costs of a nuclear power plant, and this does not even scratch the surface of the true cost of nuclear when upkeep, management, safety, and the long-term storage of wastes are added to the picture.

Put another way, at $3 per watt, the solar equivalent of a 2 giga watt nuclear plant (which is on the large side of such plants) would cost $6 billion. That means the Iraq war at $1 trillion could have purchased the SOLAR EQUIVALENT of 1 trillion/6 billion = 167 nuclear power plants (3 for each state). But the U.S got so much more for the money by going to war, didn’t it?

Keep in mind that PV has a 20% capacity factor at best, while nuclear routinely have >90%. With that in mind, a 3$/W PV installation effectively becomes 15$/W, while a 5$/W nuclear plant (in the ballpark of the much over budget Olkiluoto 3) becomes 5,56$/W.

This completely ignores the cost of storage and/or backup (usually dirty and dangerous gas) during night and cloudy days.

Keep in mind that coal, gas, and oil are causing the destruction of civilization and the possible extinction of most life on Earth and even the self-perpetuating cybernetic system of all life on Earth that we call Gaia. How do we factor the cost of that into the equation to compare to the cost of solar, wind and other renewable energies that don’t cause all those inconveniences?

Also consider the synergistic effect of combining different sources like wind and solar across broad geographic areas in a distributed system… and the existence of clean storage like pumped storage, solar thermal, etc. ?

Keep in mind the high capital costs and long lag time of nuclear–it’s long construction time, long time to pay back its carbon construction costs, less-incremental and thus less interest-compounding growth, its decreasing fuel reserves, toxic qualities and storage problems, etc. Compared to efficiency, organic carbon sequestration and renewable energy it makes very little sense unless the goal is to reduce economic and therefore political democracy.

We also need to keep in mind the undeniable link between the Light Water Reactor Fuel Cycle and weapons grade nuclear material. The LWR was selected PRECISELY because its fuel cycle was the most mature at the end of the Manhattan Project. If we had abandoned nuclear power as we should have in the 1970s, Iran would have ZERO ability to use its civilian nuclear power program as a blatant cover for its weapons program

Even if it seems not to be accounting for the fact that all these aging, dilapidated reactors are 70s technology. Reactors have come a long way since then, to the point of gen-3+ and gen-4 reactors costing a sixth in start-up capital & time and costing much less in management as the manner of handling and processing nuclear materials has completely departed from the old rod/pellet in a giant bucket of water model, such as thorium salt and breeder reactors. LFTR reactors can burn off what is called waste by other facilities. Breeders can burn most all of it.

Just remember that the failures of today are of corporate complacency and lack of innovation due to using market ideology to run a utility. Modern reactors and their designers’ being shunned are not nearly to blame.

Maybe you’re not accounting for the fact that commercial “next-gen” thorium and breeder reactors don’t exist, and projected costs of new nuclear are astronomical and growing, not shrinking. And thank Gaia they don’t exist; the last thing we need is an over militarized country like the US, obsessed and paranoid about terrorists and using every excuse to ramp up weapons and surveillance systems and disappear human rights, trucking plutonium back and forth all over.

All kinds of technologies look better before they actually exist. Too cheap to meter, safe as houses, blah blah…. And then they actually build some, and what we get is half a century of subsidies with no end in sight, TMI, Brown’s Ferry’s comedy of errors, Chernobyl’s pathetic tragedy, Fukushima’ horror. Thousands of incidents, near-misses, lies and cover ups… and construction times and costs way over the projections and estimates and the costs of the alternatives. OMB gave it a 50% chance that loan guarantees for reactors would be defaulted on, leaving the US public holding the bag…again. And what about the next accident? Where will it be—and how bad?

Expectations have been halved for reactors built by 2035, so nuclear has even less chance than it ever did (which was almost zero) of helping solve the climate crisis in time. In the end, probably the most pernicious effect of nuclear power is its concentration of profits compared to decentralized efficiency, solar and wind, and the resulting destruction of practical democracy.

The failures of today are exactly the same as the failures to come—caused by arrogance, corruption, and addiction to profits (among other things). To say that reactors are not to blame is like saying guns don’t kill people, etc. etc.. OK, true. But how many fatal drive-by spatula-slappings have you heard of? In any case, nobody’s blaming reactors, and “their designer’s being shunned”???

Blame is irrelevant. Preserving life on Earth is the issue, and nuclear is making it harder.

No matter how figured solar PV together with a low carbon backup costs more than NPPs until the fully internalized cost of solar PV (plus low carbon backup) is around US$0.08/kWh LESS than electrical energy from NPPs. That might seem strange, but both solar PV and NPPs have very low variable costs; essentially all costs are either capital costs or fixed O&M. So the way the economics works out isn’t a clear cut as one might initialy think nor as rosy as the solar PV promoters would have you think.

Continued use of fossil fuels will cost us the planet. So any costs of solar, wind, etc., no matter how they compare to the skewed, externalization-ridden and profit-oriented prices we have today are miniscule by comparison. Nuclear’s high capital costs, numerous externalities and continuing subsidies, long lag time for construction and payback for construction carbon and the need to solve the climate problem before even the first nuclear reactor started now would likely be online mean it can’t be the solution. And I would think that the lessons of TMI, Brown’s Ferry, Chernobyl and Fukushima as well as hundreds of other incidents of leaks, corruption, and the inevitably-accompanying lies and cover ups would be that nuclear is not the way to go.

It shouldn’t be an either/or between advanced nuclear and solar. Nuclear is base load; solar PV is typically well-matched to daytime peaks.

Nuke plants have long construction times – 4 Areva EPR are all behind schedule, especially Olkiluoto, 75% over budget (so far), 3 yrs behind schedule and MIGHT fire up 9 yrs after construction began.
Yes, it’ll produce plenty of power but that’s a long time to live off candles.
Solar (and wind),notwithstanding their lower capacity factors can be producing power within months, weeks, even days, if the transmission is in place.

I’ve looked into all those matters rather carefully. In comparison to other industries, NPPs are highly and well regulated and are much safer. Could do better, of course, but the LLE risk from NPPs is about the same as the LLE risk of eating peanut butter.

To replace coal burners with a low carbon source there is no alternative except at a cost too high to seriously consider. Learn to do the electrical energy economics yourself; don’t just take somebody’s word for it. >>>>

And to say that there is no alternative except at too high a cost just seems ludicrous. Since there is no evidence or support and cite no references it’s hard to even know how you arrived at that conclusion but clearly wind, solar and other renewables are being produced at a cost that is perfectly acceptable, and are growing at a phenomenal rate (though still not fast enough). The cost of efficiency is even less, and to change our lives to make our lives more rational, connected and ecological the net benefits are enormous.

One should cite sources. By following World Nuclear News it is quite evident that the capacity factor of NPPs has increased over time. It now stands at around 92%; the new Gen III designs under construction ought to do a bit better than that, but time will tell.

Also to say that the nuclear industry is well-regulated and safer than other industries suggests you haven’t looked into these matters carefully enough. Fukushima alone is enough evidence that that’s not true, and there’s a pile of other evidence. We’ve been lucky so far, but the several major and many minor accidents as well as continued crimes and cover ups, including the collusion of captured regulators make the nuclear industry an unacceptable burden to humanity.


The problem in the US is that Wall Street/old energy interests run the county and they are obstructing virtually every effort communities and states are making to progress with local, distributed renewable energy. Until there is a mass movement to overcome excessive utility/corporate powers, and wage a ground-up push for FIT’s, we will be stuck in the dirty dark ages. Solar Done Right just launched a Call to Action for Energy Democracy


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