SolarNoa, the developer of a 20MW project in Argentina, has responded to concerns voiced over the validity of claims surrounding the plant. Questions remain, however.
By Jason Deign
There is one thing that can definitely be said about Argentina’s first CSP plant: it is stirring up plenty of debate.
Since CSP Today echoed industry concerns over some of the details of the project, many more people have come forward to express their views regarding the validity of the proposals. Including, first and foremost, the plant’s developer, Héctor Ferreyra, director of SolarNoa.
“We are grateful for your interest in our project,” he says. “Soon we will send more detailed information on it. We have signed a frame agreement and at the moment work is being undertaken on the detailed engineering for the plant, so we do not have precise details.”
Nevertheless, Ferreyra affirms the Salta facility will be a 20MW parabolic trough plant and that it is being designed by the Harbin Turbine Company of Heilongjiang, in China.
“The solar thermal plant will be sited on a 72 ha plot eight kilometres north of the locality of San Carlos, Salta province,” he continues. “The surface it occupies will include an annex where we foresee creating a tourist development in harmony with the solar thermal plant.”
On its website, SolarNoa has changed a number of details that originally raised eyebrows among peers in the CSP community. For example, an operating temperature of 1000º has been revised to a more credible 500º.
And a reference to a generation cost of USD$7.10 per MWh, well below the rate of any current technology, has been removed.
Ferreyra also points out that some of the concerns raised by observers have little or no foundation. For example, it is not clear whether the Salta plant would comply with the local content requirements spelled out in a proposed law for CSP in Argentina.
But as Ferreyra says: “This is only a proposed law. Until it is sanctioned and published, it simply does not exist.”
Similarly, the size of the plant’s solar field in relation to its output, a feature debated by some CSP Today readers, seems less of an issue now it is clear the site will not be entirely taken up by troughs. Nevertheless, some key questions still remain to be addressed.
Principal among these is how well qualified Harbin Turbine Company is to carry out the work.
According to a press release from the company, in November last year its vice general manager Lu Zhiqiang signed a formal strategic cooperation agreement with Datang New Energy, predominantly a wind farm developer, for CSP power generation.
The announcement confirms the two companies are the driving forces behind Erdos, a 50MW parabolic trough project in Inner Mongolia. Currently still in planning, it is to be the first of several joint projects in China, with others planned for Gansu and Xinjiang.
Harbine Turbine Company says it is engaged in training “to grasp key technology and management experiences related to new energy industry (sic), typically CSP.”
It is clear from this that Salta will be one of Harbine Turbine Company’s first forays into solar thermal plant construction, which may account for some of the howlers originally contained in SolarNoa’s description of the project.
Of course, given Chinese companies’ ability to rapidly get up to speed with new technologies, Harbine’s relative inexperience may not in itself be a significant problem.
However, sources close to the Argentinean solar industry also question whether the project’s owners have the necessary know-how to get it off the ground.
“I know there are many people interested in getting hold of important projects but that are far from being sound professionals in the matter,” says Jorge Poppi of Skenta, a company exclusively dedicated to solar thermal water heating systems.
“I would say there are not more than a handful of professionals in Argentina capable of leading such a project.”
Other sources note that Salta National University (Universidad Nacional de Salta or UNSA in Spanish) is one of the most advanced centres for CSP research in Argentina.
The university’s Institute of Investigation into Non-Conventional Energy (Instituto de Investigaciones en Energía no Convencional) is developing a linear Fresnel system and is said to possess an Ormat organic fluid turbine that could be pressed into use for CSP.
Nevertheless, despite its relative proximity and clear expertise in CSP, UNSA is not mentioned among SolarNoa’s alliance partners. Nor do sources close to the university know of any connection.
But even granted that the lack of relevant expertise would not be a stumbling block, there remains a final worry. One director of an Argentina-based renewable energy consultancy comments: “My business carried out an energy generation project in the Province of Salta.
“In the end the project could not go ahead because the Province of Salta never provided the guarantees requested by the investors. I think this will prevent the Chinese project from going ahead, rather than any technical considerations.”
To respond to this article, please write to Jason Deign
Or write to the editor, Jennifer Muirhead