Solar PV Challenging Solar Thermal

A steady fall in the cost of photovoltaic materials and Chinese manufacturers flooding markets in Europe and America with cheap solar panels has left some solar companies reeling, such as Silex Solar, which announced earlier this week it would no longer be making solar cells at its Australian plant.

While the drop in prices for solar panels is good news for prospective buyers of rooftop solar power systems; it’s also posing a major challenge for a specific sector of large-scale solar energy industry: solar thermal power.

In September last year we reported on Solar Trust of America’s contract to build the one gigawatt Blythe Solar Project, one of the biggest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants in the world, which would use a heliostat system to concentrate sunlight onto liquid-filled tubes with the resulting heat used to generate steam and spin turbines.

In what is being described by some as a “dark day” for solar thermal power in America, Solar Trust has announced it will switch the first 500 megawatts of its construction work at the Blythe facility from CSP to PV technology, conceding that CSP technology is simply not viable in current market conditions.

Solar Trust CEO, Uwe T. Schmidt framed the decision in the best possible light, stating in a release that developing Blythe as a commercial PV project would make it a more attractive prospect for financing from commercial banks.

“This move underscores Solar Trust’s focus on maximizing the potential of our sites by deploying the right technology at the right time,” Schmidt said.

Some might say the writing on the wall for this move occurred back in May when Solar Trust of America aggressively sought access to a $2.1 billion federal loan scheme in order to form a joint venture with German PV tech giant SolarHybrid AG.