President Donald Trump doesn’t usually mention solar power, unless it’s talk of covering his beloved border wall in solar panels. But his Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced a huge investment in concentrated solar power (CSP). Recently, the solar industry reached the 2020 SunShot Initiative utility-scale solar cost goal, so the DOE is now looking into new priorities for investment.
The DOE recently issued a press release stating they’ll invest up to $82 million in research: $62 million for CSP and $20 million in power electronics technologies, focusing on new technologies now that the average price for utility-scale solar is now six cents per kilowatt-hour. The MIT Technology Review suggested DOE officials think CSP could enhance grid stability more in the long term since CSP plants can store some power as heat, allowing them to keep producing electricity when there’s no sunshine.
But the energy CSP plants generate has been costlier than photovoltaics. And according to the MIT Technology Review, some people are suspicious the DOE may move to weaken support for photovoltaics. The Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal slashed funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by almost 70 percent. That’s the same office that manages the SunShot Initiative. The DOE also announced a $50 million funding opportunity for large-scale pilot fossil fuel projects in late August.
But CSP’s ability to store power is a strong advantage. Energy policy researcher David Victor of the University of California, San Diego did say investing in CSP makes sense, telling MIT Technology Review, “My general impression is that we have relatively over-invested in photovoltaics and under-invested in [concentrated solar].”
Dan Reicher, executive director at Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, told MIT Technology Review, “[Concentrated solar power] today hasn’t been able to compete with photovoltaics, but there are some promising research areas. Given the climate challenge, we need to put eggs in many, many zero-carbon baskets.”