Rhein on Energy and Climate

The decision by Areva, the French engineering company with a turn-over of some € 12 billion and employing 75 000 people around the world, to buy Ausra, a tiny US start-up company with less than 100 employees, is likely to give a further boost solar thermal power generation, after the launch of DESERTEC by a group of major European finance and engineering companies in 2009.

Ausra is building a 177 MW power plant in California, using a simple low-cost version of CST technology: instead of applying the trough technology with huge parabolic mirrors, it will use the so-called Fresnel technology applying almost flat mirrors and a simple receiver system that allows the cost-effective application to small solar power plants of less than 3 MW.

Several medium size power plants with 6-10 MW capacity, designed for “Fresnel reflectors”, are planned in Spain and Portugal.

Areva offers its world-wide engineering and sales network to sell Fresnel-type solar power plants. It intends to invest some $ 200 million for establishing an efficient sales and service network. In doing so it will compete with companies engaged in PV solar installations linked to the grid that have mushroomed during the last years in Spain, Italy and the South-West of the USA.

It will be interesting to follow how the competition between the different types of solar power plants – PV, CST trough and CST Fresnel – will develop in the decades to come. The outcome will depend on the relative operating costs of these competing technologies. CST technology moreover has the advantage of producing steam to be used for heating.

In any event, the take-over demonstrates the need for the nuclear business to diversify into renewables, if only for image reasons. It will take decades before the renewable business of companies like Areva or Siemens, strongly entrenched in conventional nuclear or fossil power generation, will overtake their traditional power generation business. But developments in the last few years are encouraging and demonstrate that the management has understood the message that the future energy supply will be in renewables.

Brussels, 09.10.10 Eberhard Rhein

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