Costs of reducing water use of concentrating solar power to sustainable levels: Scenarios for North Africa
Concentrating solar power (CSP) has the potential to become a leading sustainable energy technology for the European electricity system. In order to reach a substantial share in the energy mix, European investment in CSP appears most profitable in North Africa, where solar potential is significantly higher than in southern Europe. As well as sufficient solar irradiance, however, the majority of today's CSP plants also require a considerable amount of water, primarily for cooling purposes. In this paper we examine water usage associated with CSP in North Africa, and the cost penalties associated with technologies that could reduce those needs. We inspect four representative sites to compare the ecological and economical drawbacks from conventional and alternative cooling systems, depending on the local environment, and including an outlook with climate change to the mid-century. Scaling our results up to a regional level indicates that the use of wet cooling technologies would likely be unsustainable. Dry cooling systems, as well as sourcing of alternative water supplies, would allow for sustainable operation. Their cost penalty would be minor compared to the variance in CSP costs due to different average solar irradiance values. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.