CSP Today speaks to Dr. Kenneth Cheah, Vice President of Commercial and Solar Technology, about FLABEG's technology advancements, promising emerging markets and the expansion of their portfolio to include solar field design and components supplies.
Parabolic troughs remain the dominant technology in the CSP market. However, the past few years have seen new technologies entering into the industry, including Fresnel, Tower and Dish. Amidst the flurry of research and development into new cost-reducing technologies, industry leaders FLABEG launched the Ultimate Trough in 2011. Building upon the existing Euro-trough technology, the Ultimate Trough aims to bring CSP costs down by 25%. Fast forward one year to September 2012 and FLABEG has announced the introduction of DuraGLARE technology which it believes will bring further savings for CSP developers by reducing the dust deposits on glass by up to 50%. Finally, FLABEG has expanded its portfolio, adopting a more interdisciplinary approach to provide developers with solar field design plans and selected components.
CSP Today: After years in the CSP industry, what sparked the sudden flurry of technology development over the past couple of years within Flabeg?
FLABEG has always strived to improve its technology. We have led the industry by improving the accuracy, durability and costs reductions of CSP mirrors even while demand was high. During the boom of the CSP industry in Spain we realized that at some point the industry needs to sustain itself through technological advancement and cost reduction as the generous incentives are exhausted.
There were very few players willing to optimize the collector as a system, rather the optimization was done on an individual component level. Today all collectors being deployed are still based on the EuroTrough technology which is almost 14 years old.
CSP Today: Despite many developers turning their attentions towards Fresnel and Tower technologies, Flabeg has stayed with the parabolic trough? What are the reasons behind this?
Parabolic trough technology has been in operation for almost 30 years. It is a known and reliable technology that the banks and financial institutions understand and are able to quantify the risks. We believe that there are still ample opportunities for improvements, as demonstrated by the 25% reduction in solar field costs FLABEG has found without increasing the technological risks.
I believe that Tower technology could play a major role in the future but we still need years of field data to allow the financing side to be comfortable with this technology. In the meantime, it is essential that we continue to look at cost reductions in proven technologies such as parabolic trough to continue the deployment of CSP worldwide.
In general, FLABEG supports all Concentrated Solar technologies which include tower, dish and Fresnel. We are also the largest supplier of mirrors for CPV application. All of these technologies have great potential but it is all about reducing costs and demonstrating reliability of these systems to the market.
CSP Today: How does the Ultimate Trough (UT) differ from previous parabolic trough designs?
The design of the Ultimate Trough (UT) is the culmination of the many years of experience from the SEGS and Andasol plants resulting in a trough that has a very high degree of accuracy. As a consequent, the Ultimate Trough can run on molten salt using a smaller diameter tube (to minimize heat loss) with very little modification.
Our engineering team reduced the specific costs ($/m2) by “going large”. The Ultimate Trough aperture is 30% larger and Solar Collector Element (SCE) is twice as long as the ET. This result in almost half the amount of pylons, drives, assembly and civil works required which enables the UT to be 25% cheaper.
The UT also utilizes a conventional steel structure that is widely available requiring very low tolerances to allow for local sourcing. Automated and simple assembly allows for the use of low skilled labour and reduces assembly time. With our assembly method, the 7.5m aperture UT has an intercept factor of 99.2% on a 94mm HCE and 97.5% on a 70mm HCE (for molten salt application). Our team also introduced new innovations that allows the larger UT to have a lower wind load compared to the ET.
CSP Today: What has the feedback on the Ultimate Trough been a year down the line? Are there any future versions of this technology in the pipe-line?
The feedback has been very positive and everyone is waiting to see it in the field. We have made it a point to ensure that this technology is widely available to all. All steel components for the structure can be sourced locally and therefore no suppliers are defined as long as the required specifications are fulfilled. FLABEG is currently in discussion with a number of customers worldwide to deploy the Ultimate Trough technology as well as to use our engineering services for Solar Field design.
With 25% lower costs, it makes a significant difference to the ROI in any CSP project.
CSP TODAY: Is the technology currently being used in any CSP Plants?
The FLABEG engineering team is in the process of completing two Solar Collector Assemblies (SCA) with a total length of approximately 500 meters and total aperture area of 3,378m2 that is being attached to an existing header piping of an operating solar thermal power plant. We are also in discussion to build a test loop for a customer using molten salt.
CSP Today: Your duraGLARE technology seems particularly well-suited to desert conditions. Was it designed for these purposes?
Our R&D team started working on duraGLARE almost 3 years ago. We realized that water usage will continue to become an issue for any operating CSP plant. DuraGLARE is designed to reduce/repel dust build up to almost 50% over an uncoated mirror. In addition, the mirror can be effectively cleaned during a good rainfall restoring the reflectivity to its original condition without any need for physical contact cleaning. We expect that any CSP/CPV technology with duraGLARE mirrors will require less water and/or less frequency for cleaning. This will reduce O&M costs, increase generation output and hence revenue for a given power plant.
CSP Today: Has Flabeg got any projects in desert regions such as Saudi Arabia or Dubai? If not, are these markets you are examining?
We are already in negotiations with a number of companies in these regions. Having supplied the first mirrors into every emerging CSP market such as Abu Dhabi, India, Egypt, Spain and the US. Our track record has been a good reference.
CSP Today: Which markets do you see as the most appealing for Flabeg? And why?
We believe China could be the next big market for CSP. The government is very committed to clean and sustainable energy. Once the regulatory frame work is in place I believe the opportunities will be significant.
Obviously things are developing in the MENA region. We see the government in Morocco is starting to put in a good regulatory frame work to allow the industry to grow. Saudi Arabia has set very ambitious targets and we see opportunities in Abu Dhabi as well. Activities are also starting to accelerate in South Africa, South America and I believe the US will bounce back but it could take another 3 years.
It is critical that while these markets are developing, the CSP industry continues to work on cost reduction and new innovations, as FLABEG has done. Imagine if we could find cost reductions of 25% from the HTF, power block and the thermal storage to go along with the 25% reduction with the Ultimate Trough?
CSP Today: Flabeg is expanding its portfolio to include solar field design and component supplies. Could you please elaborate on what this involves?
Our philosophy behind this to try to offer our customers as many services in a single point to help them save on costs. What we are doing allows an EPC with little CSP experience to build a Solar Field without having to develop its own technology or in house expertise lowering costs and barrier of entry. Through FLABEG you can now obtain the following:
- all the necessary documents and drawings for Procurement and Construction for both the Ultimate Trough and ET. This includes collector/jig drawings, specification for reflectors, HCE, swivel joints, drive systems, control systems and sensors.
- services and support such as solar field engineering for specific sites, QA for metal support structure, jig alignment, supervision of initial assembly and commissioning support.
- key components such as control systems, sensors to ensure performance.
- mirrors with field proven durability and industry leading performance.