Do Solar-Thermal Power Plant Hybrids Make Sense?

Eric Wesoff of Greentechmedia asks an interesting question, “Can solar play nicely with coal and natural gas?”  Specifically, Wesoff cites Tucson Electric Power (TEP), which “is working with Areva Solar on a concentrated solar power (CSP) ‘booster’ to the 156-megawatt Unit 4 at TEP’s H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station in Tucson… a dual-fueled unit capable of using coal or natural gas.”

According to Wesoff, the question really boils down to whether or not it makes sense to build a “hybrid [power] plant instead of a fossil-fueled plant or a stand alone PV or solar thermal plant.”  It’s an interesting concept, and there are several important potential benefits to doing so, in Wesoff’s view:

  • It reduces the amount of fossil fuel being burned
  • A hybrid produces less emissions
  • It potentially “greens” existing assets
  • Hybrids can address regulatory pressures and potentially help meet Renewable Portfolio Standards
  • The transmission and Balance of Plant (like the power block) are already in place, as well as existing plant staff, along with permits and a water supply

All of these certainly seem like good reasons to consider integrating solar into thermal power plants. We’re particularly intrigued by the potential for lower emissions and fossil fuel combustion. Anyway, it’s an area to keep our eyes on moving forward.