Monday September 24th 2012

French nuclear giant Areva buys Ausra, says solar thermal power market may increase 30-fold by 2020

French energy giant Areva has bought U.S.-based Ausra in order “to become a world leader in concentrated solar thermal” power (CSP).  And so the race is on for market share in “The Technology that will Save Humanity.”

CSP is the most scalable and affordable baseload (or, even better, load-following) low-carbon supply technology — when used with low-cost, high-efficiency thermal storage.  CSP can also share its steam turbine with biomass, a strategy the Chinese are pursuing, or with natural gas (see “Hybrid solar/gas plants provide low-cost, low-carbon power when needed“).

The Oil Drum wonders if Areva is “losing faith in the oft-predicted but unrealised ‘nuclear renaissance’.”   Certainly, Areva’s best-known product is pricing itself out of the market (see Areva has acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as 6 billion euros, or $8 billion, double the price offered to the Finns).

CSP, on the other hand, has just started down the experience curve and is poised to be one of the major winners in the low-carbon economy.  Indeed, Bloomberg/BusinessWeek [another corporate merger?] reports:

Areva SA of France predicts the global use of solar-thermal power will grow by about 30-fold this decade, a forecast that spurred the world’s largest maker of nuclear reactors to buy a California-based equipment maker.

The technology, which typically uses curved mirrors to focus sunlight to generate electricity, will be installed on plants with 20,000 megawatts of power potential by 2020, Anil Srivastava, Areva renewable energies executive vice president, said in an interview. That compares with about 625 megawatts today, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

“It is a very attractive market,” Srivastava said. Paris- based Areva aims to become a world leader in solar thermal, he said, after agreeing yesterday to buy Ausra Inc., a Mountain View, California-based maker of sun-driven steam generators used by power plants.

Many big international companies are trying to become leaders in CSP:

Siemens AG, Europe’s largest engineering company, agreed last year to a $418 million purchase of Beit Shemesh, Israel- based Solel Solar Ltd. Abengoa SA, also an engineering company, is building 13 solar-thermal plants in Spain that will benefit from consumer subsidies for clean energy….

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has forecast the installed base to grow to as much as 34,000 megawatts worldwide by 2020, exceeding the estimate of the French atomic-reactor maker.

Whether 20 GW in 2020 or 34 GW, CSP is a very fast-growing market (see “World’s largest solar plant with thermal storage to be built in Arizona — total of 8500 MW of this core climate solution planned for 2014 in U.S. alone“).  And ultimately that’s why Areva says it is jumping in:

The market for concentrated solar power plants is expected to grow substantially in the next decade with an average annual growth rate of 20% and should reach an estimated installed capacity of over 20 GW by 2020. With this acquisition, AREVA is poised to capture the leading position of this attractive and growing market.

The Obama DOE is aggressively pursuing the technology, too:

The U.S. Department of Energy is ramping up research into what’s also called “concentrated solar power,” funding almost 30 projects and working with companies including New York-based Alcoa Inc. and Spain’s Abengoa with the aim of making the technology competitive in the baseload power market by 2020.

But ultimately, there is only one way this country can maintain the level of investment that other countries do, only one way to win the clean energy race — pass the clean energy bill.

This article was originally posted on Climate Progress