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Empirically observed learning rates for concentrating solar power and their responses to regime change

Nature Energy volume 2, Article number: 17094 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity has expanded slower than other renewable technologies and its costs are still high. Until now, there have been too few CSP projects to derive robust conclusions about its cost development. Here we present an empirical study of the cost development of all operating CSP stations and those under construction, examining the roles of capacity growth, industry continuity, and policy support design. We identify distinct CSP expansion phases, each characterized by different cost pressure in the policy regime and different industry continuity. In 2008–2011, with low cost pressure and following industry discontinuity, costs increased. In the current phase, with high cost pressure and continuous industry development, costs decreased rapidly, with learning rates exceeding 20%. Data for projects under construction suggest that this trend is continuing and accelerating. If support policies and industrial structure are sustained, we see no near-term factors that would hinder further cost decreases.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for this work came from a European Research Council Consolidator Grant (grant number 313553).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Climate Policy Research Group, Institute for Environmental Decisions, ETH Zürich, Universitätstrasse 22, room CHN J71, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland

    • Johan Lilliestam
    • , Mercè Labordena
    • , Anthony Patt
    •  & Stefan Pfenninger

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Contributions

J.L. designed the study and drafted the article; J.L. and M.L. gathered the data; J.L. and S.P. analysed the data; S.P. generated the figures; all authors worked with the final manuscript; A.P. supervised the grant.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Johan Lilliestam.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Notes 1–6, Supplementary Tables 1–2, Supplementary Figures 1–12 and Supplementary References.

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Data 1

    Technical and economic data for all operational CSP stations and those currently (as of September 2016) under construction. n.k. = not known. This version of the data and future updated data are also available on www.csp.guru.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2017.94

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