Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Potential for concentrating solar power to provide baseload and dispatchable power


Previous studies have demonstrated the possibility of maintaining a reliable electric power system with high shares of renewables, but only assuming the deployment of specific technologies in precise ratios, careful demand-side management, or grid-scale storage technologies1,2. Any scalable renewable technology that could provide either baseload or dispatchable power would allow greater flexibility in planning a balanced system, and therefore would be especially valuable. Many analysts have suggested that concentrating solar power (CSP) could do just that3,4,5,6,7,8. Here we systematically test this proposition for the first time. We simulate the operation of CSP plant networks incorporating thermal storage in four world regions where CSP is already being deployed, and optimize their siting, operation and sizing to satisfy a set of realistic demand scenarios. In all four regions, we show that with an optimally designed and operated system, it is possible to guarantee up to half of peak capacity before CSP plant costs substantially increase.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Total output for the year 2005 from 100 plants spread across locations in the Mediterranean basin.
Figure 2: Costs of guaranteeing to meet various fractions of the load in the three load profiles by CSP plants, for the worst (costliest) year out of the four simulated in the Mediterranean basin.
Figure 3: Costs of guaranteeing to meet various fractions of the load for fully optimized plants (design, location and operation) in the four regions, for the worst (costliest) year out of the four simulated years.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Ekman, C. K. & Jensen, S. H. Prospects for large scale electricity storage in Denmark. Energy Convers. Manage. 51, 1140–1147 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Mathiesen, B. V. & Lund, H. Comparative analyses of seven technologies to facilitate the integration of fluctuating renewable energy sources. IET Renew. Power Gen. 3, 190–204 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Usaola, J. Operation of concentrating solar power plants with storage in spot electricity markets. IET Renew. Power Gen. 6, 59–66 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Trieb, F., Schillings, C., Pregger, T. & O’Sullivan, M. Solar electricity imports from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe. Energy Policy 42, 341–353 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Izquierdo, S., Montañés, C., Dopazo, C. & Fueyo, N. Analysis of CSP plants for the definition of energy policies: The influence on electricity cost of solar multiples, capacity factors and energy storage. Energy Policy 38, 6215–6221 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Lilliestam, J., Bielicki, J. & Patt, A. Comparing carbon capture and storage (CCS) with concentrating solar power (CSP): Potentials, costs, risks, and barriers. Energy Policy 47, 447–455 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Fthenakis, V., Mason, J. & Zweibel, K. The technical, geographical, and economic feasibility for solar energy to supply the energy needs of the US. Energy Policy 37, 387–399 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Viehbahn, P., Lechon, Y. & Trieb, F. The potential role of concentrated solar power (CSP) in Africa and Europe. Energy Policy 39, 4420–4430 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. McCollum, D., Yang, C., Yeh, S. & Ogden, J. Deep greenhouse gas reduction scenarios for California—Strategic implications from the CA-TIMES energy-economic systems model. Energy Strategy Rev. 1, 19–32 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Lilliestam, J. et al. An alternative to a global climate deal may be unfolding before our eyes. Clim. Dev. 4, 1–4 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. EC Energy Roadmap 2050 COM(2011) 885/2 (European Commission, 2011).

  12. State of California. Executive Order S-3-05 (The Governor of California, 2005).

  13. Haller, M., Ludig, S. & Bauer, N. Decarbonisation scenarios for the EU and MENA power system: Considering spatial distribution and short term dynamics of renewable generation. Energy Policy 47, 282–290 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. IPCC, Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011).

  15. Delucchi, M. A. & Jacobson, M. Z. Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmisison costs, and policies. Energy Policy 39, 1170–1190 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Jacobson, M. Z. & Delucchi, M. A. Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials. Energy Policy 39, 1154–1169 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Garrison, J. B. & Webber, M. E. An integrated energy storage scheme for a dispatchable solar and wind powered energy system. J. Renew. Sustain. Energy 3, 043101 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Heide, D., Greiner, M., von Bremen, L. & Hoffmann, C. Reduced storage and balancing needs in a fully renewable European power system with excess wind and solar power generation. Renew. Energy 36, 2515–2523 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Budischak, C. et al. Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time. J. Power Sources 225, 60–74 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Arent, D. et al. Implications of high renewable electricity penetration in the U.S. for water use, greenhouse gas emissions, land-use, and materials supply. Appl. Energy 123, 368–377 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Patt, A., Komendantova, N., Battaglini, A. & Lilliestam, J. Regional integration to support full renewable power deployment for Europe by 2050. Environ. Politics 20, 727–742 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Battaglini, A., Lilliestam, J., Haas, A. & Patt, A. Development of SuperSmart Grids for a more efficient utilisation of electricity from renewable sources. J. Cleaner Prod. 17, 911–918 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Katzenstein, W., Fertig, E. & Apt, J. The variability of interconnected wind plants. Energy Policy 38, 4400–4410 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Kempton, W., Pimenta, F. M., Veron, D. E. & Colle, B. A. Electric power from offshore wind via synoptic-scale interconnection. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 7240–7245 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. IAEA Nuclear Power Reactors in the World 2011 Edition (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2011).

  26. Förster, H. & Lilliestam, J. Modeling thermoelectric power generation in view of climate change. Reg. Environ. Change 10, 327–338 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Van Vliet, M. T. H. et al. Vulnerability of US and European electricity supply to climate change. Nature Clim. Change 2, 676–681 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gauché, P., von Backström, T. W. & Brent, A. C. 17th SolarPACES Conference 20–23 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


Funding for this work was provided by the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology via its Climate-KIC program, and derived from the European Research Council, grant number 313533.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.P., J.L. and A.P. designed the study and drafted the manuscript. S.P. implemented the models and performed all analyses. P.G. contributed the CSP plant model and solar resource data. K.D. performed the site selection and obtained demand data. F.W. contributed to model development and implementation. All authors contributed to editing and discussing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stefan Pfenninger.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pfenninger, S., Gauché, P., Lilliestam, J. et al. Potential for concentrating solar power to provide baseload and dispatchable power. Nature Clim Change 4, 689–692 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing