By Rikki Stancich

Yesterday, solar energy developer, Solar Trust of America, announced its decision to convert the first 500 MW phase of the Blythe Solar Power Project from concentrated solar power (CSP) to photovoltaic (PV) technology.

Now it appears that CSP may not even get a cameo role in the words largest solar project to date. When completed, the Blythe Project will have a total nominal capacity of 1,000 MW. But according to STA, market conditions in the US are not yet ripe for CSP.

Solar Trust says that developing the site as a commercial PV project is a more attractive strategy for the company in the current market. “In light of our change in technology, we now plan to finance the facility in the commercial bank market,” said Uwe T. Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Solar Trust of America.

The company stresses that its strategy is all about “deploying the right technology at the right time.” By switching to PV technology, Solar Trust of America will be able to roll out construction of the Blythe facility in phases, rather than 250MW at-a-time as was planned with CSP.

But the company stands by CSP and emphasises its strategic importance in Solar Trust’s product portfolio moving forward: “As the PV base in North America grows, the grid-stabilizing characteristics of CSP will be recognized and rewarded,” said Schmidt.

In a brief Q&A with Solar Trust of America’s Uwe Schmidt, CSP Today seeks to learn more about the switch in strategy, and its implications for US CSP projects going forward.

CSP Today: STA has opted to deploy PV technology instead of CSP technology for the first 500MW of its 1000MW Blythe project, citing PV's modularity and bankability as key reasons for the change in strategy. How much cheaper is it to deploy PV than the Heliotrough collector technology and power block at this point in time?

Uwe Schmidt: PV panel prices have come down 30% this year alone, and that downward trend is forecast to continue in the near term.

CSP Today: Is the Blythe project likely to deploy any CSP technology at all?

Uwe Schmidt: CSP may be the right choice for future projects, but not for Blythe at this time.

CSP Today:  STA cites PV’s bankability as a key reason behind this decision. Why has it been so difficult to source finance for a project using proven CSP technology (i.e. parabolic troughs)?

Uwe Schmidt: To the contrary, financing is available for CSP projects throughout the world. Our largest shareholder, Solar Millennium, just closed financing on its fourth CSP plant in Spain.

CSP Today:  How does STA intend to address the intermittency/dispatchability issues related to PV in its Blythe project?

Uwe Schmidt: California utilities have expressed interest in PV at this time regardless of integration issues.

CSP Today: Is there a risk that this move could send the wrong signals to potential investors in Solar Millennium and Ferrostaals' CSP technology?

Uwe Schmidt: Solar Millennium and Solar Trust of America are committed to generating maximum value of their sites. PV accomplishes that for the Blythe site at this time. Solar Millennium’s CSP technology is currently being deployed at other sites around the world where grid stability and storage potential are recognized and rewarded.

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