How the US Lost Out to Spain in Concentrating Solar Power

concentrating solar power

Renewable energy is a multibilion dollar global industry. One in which the US has fallen rapidly behind. Instead of using his presidency to build a world class renewable energy industry, like Germany, Spain, Italy or China (the world’s leading exporter of  PVC solar panels), Obama has pissed away his six years in office pimping dangerous and environmental destructive practices like fracking and deep sea oil drilling.

Concentrating solar power, aka Solar Thermal Energy (STE) is a technology that receives scant attention in the US, even in environmental circles. CSP systems use mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight, or solar thermal energy, onto a small area. Electrical power is produced when the concentrated light is converted to heat, which drives a heat engine (usually a steam turbine) connected to an electrical power generator.

The Italian inventor Giovanni Francia designed and built the first concentrating solar plant near Genoa, which first went on-line in 1968. In 1981 the 10 megawatt (MW) Solar One power tower began operation in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. The nearby Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS), consisting of nine solar plants with a total of 254 MW generation capacity, went on-line in 1984.

How Spain Became the World Leader in CSP

According to Solar Server, despite a worsening economic crisis, austerity cuts, street protests and general strikes,  Spain met a whopping 42% of its 2013 electricity needs through renewable power generation.

26% of Spain’s electricity comes from solar and wind generation and 16% from hydrogeneration. Globally, Spain has the third highest percentage of solar electricity generation (following Germany and Italy), and the highest percentage of CSP electricity generation.

The main advantage of CSP over rooftop photovoltaic cell (PVC) solar generation is the ability of CSP to generate a load large enough to power a grid. It also has the advantage of providing cheap and efficient thermal (i.e. heat) energy storage, which means it can produce electricity continuously night or day, especially during peak demand periods (summer evening hours or winter mornings).

In 2007 Spain installed Europe’s first commercial concentrating solar power plant, which generates a 11 MW load, near Seville. By 2010, they had surpassed the US as the world leader in CSP production. By October 2011, an additional 420 MW had gone into operation, with an additional 2500 MW anticipated by the end of 2013.

According to the Department of Energy, the US has a current CSP load capacity of 800 MW, with four new plants scheduled to come online in 2014.

Economic Benefits of CSP

In October 2011 the Spanish Association of the Solar Thermal Industry commissioned Deloite, one of the Big Four international financial powerhouses to analyze the economic viability of Spain’s CSP industry. According to the Deloitte report, Macroeconomic Impact of the Solar Thermal Electricity Industry in Spain, the total contribution of the CSP industry to Spain’s 2010 GDP was 1.6 billion Euros.

More importantly, the number of workers employed came to 23,844 in 2010. Many of the jobs created relate to the export of parabolic mirrors and other CSP technology and expertise to the rest of the world.

The five years Spain has spent refining CSP technology has made them the unquestioned leader in the Concentrating Solar Power Alliance. The CSPA is an international industry lobby group formed in March 2012 to to promote the benefits of CSP, specifically to US lawmakers, regulators, utilities and grid operators. With America’s insatiable energy needs, the US is clearly the market they need to penetrate.

Given the iron control the fossil fuel industry exerts over the Congress, White House and media, they have their work cut out for them.

photo credit: SandiaLabs via photopin cc

13 thoughts on “How the US Lost Out to Spain in Concentrating Solar Power

  1. Obama has hailed renewable energy too many times to count and then turned right around and promoted fracking. Nothing substantial has come of his years in office pertaining to weaning the U.S. off of oil and nothing will. He is a paid corporate shill and don’t we all know it. With the fact that electric grids all across America are in serious need of complete overhauls and for there not to have been something concrete done about our energy problems is just beyond the end of enough. We are lagging behind all other developed countries in everything. Our infrastructure has been neglected for decades and obviously, will remain so while we continue to drill, baby drill while contributing to climate change hand over fist. It is quite obvious that America is being hung out to dry and it is all quite deliberate.

    Thank you for an excellent post, Dr. Bramhall!


    • What irritates me even more is that the so-called environmental movement has obviously sold out to corporate interests. If they were serious aboutsaving the environment, they would be promoting CSP like crazy. I only found out about it through some obscure documentary on the BBC World Service.


  2. Excellent post, SB. A Spanish judge has just decided to proceed with a case against Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, prosecuting them for torture at Guantanamo. The Spanish legislature can be expected to try to block the case.

    Tubularsock would be pleased if those three were convicted and sent to the electric chair plugged into the sun. But alas, I don’t think the Spanish have the death penalty.

    As far as Obama, I think he has be sitting on the White House front porch too long while he could have been picking cotton for The Man ……. The OIL Man! He’s done everything else for him.

    I agree that the American environmental movement has sold out as well.

    And as we have discovered how well a token Black Man has done as President we are headed for the token Woman …….. we are fucked.

    An important point is that this information about alternative energy is out there to be found but one
    has to press two or three buttons to locate it and the American public only know how to press one button on their TV remote!

    Tubularsock has to stop and go finish washing his underground-bunker-windows.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Tubularsock, your posts and comments are always the high point of my day. How exciting to hear about the Spanish judge pursuing the torture case. In 2012, the Obama administration leaned on the Spanish Supreme Court to defrock Baltasar Garzon for pursuing a prosecution against the Bush 6. How thrilling to think another job has taken up the cause. When I was in Seattle, I treated a torture victim (a priest) from the Pinochet regime. We both cried when Garzon undertook a prosecution against Pinochet and he was arrested in the UK.

      Good point about Obama picking cotton – or is it turnips. Cliven Bundy sure has a way with words.

      You must really like washing windows. I last washed a window in October 2002.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Then again, those PIIGS are fubar, 40% unemployed. Electricity for me, the rest of welfare for you.

    Funny how we (Europe) should swallow those masses of immigrants, while the suns shines elsewhere! I can imagine Gigawatts in Algeria, instead of gas exporting, no labour industries.


  4. Good point, Oelsen. Spain’s borderline fascist government leaves a lot to be desired. They clearly have no interest in equal distribution of any wealth they create through CSP or other renewable energy technologies.




    • Unfortunately a lot of talk about New Zealand being clean and green is pure PR propaganda. Our standards for exported food are extremely high because our economically survival depends on it. However standards for regulating toxic chemicals are even worse here than in the US – this results in an extremely high rate of cancer and autism and the highest rate in the world of male infertility.


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