Dark Day for Solar Thermal: Solar Trust Switches 500MW Power Plant to PV

By Michael Kanellos  |  Greentech Media, Inc.  | Link to article

Solar Trust said today that it will convert a 500-megawatt solar thermal power plant it had been planning in Blythe, California into a 500-megawatt plant made from photovoltaic panels.

The shift comes because of “improved market conditions” for building power plants with PV modules. Solar modules from some vendors now cost as little as $1.30 a watt, according to GTM Research.

The switch will mean the company has to walk away from a $2.1 billion federal loan guarantee. Switching to PV will also let Solar Trust build the plant in 250-megawatt increments, making financing and planning easier.

The 500-megawatt power plant is the first half of a 1-gigawatt development, so it’s probably fair to look at this as a 1-gigawatt loss for the thermal industry. Solar Trust hasn’t said what happens to the second half of the project, but one can guess.

Last year, we predicted that solar thermal power plants would soon begin to face severe competition from solar modules because of the rapid decline in the price of modules and the fact that PV plants are easier to build than thermal plants. Soon after, solar thermal plants began to run into trouble or get converted to PV projects. Stirling Energy gave up on two thermal power plants totaling over 1.5 gigawatt. NRG Energy converted two thermal projects to PV. Government agencies were helping thermal too: both the California Energy Commission and The Department of the Interior have been approving thermal projects. (full article)