By Jason Deign

Imagine you have spent the last decade working on a breakthrough CSP technology. It works and you have the figures to prove it. The question is: do you offer up your work for public scrutiny, and risk losing your lead in the market? Or do you soldier on secret?

On the surface, you might be tempted to choose the second option. After all, a scientific study of its own accord is unlikely to have investors reaching for their chequebooks.

But ignoring the value of research papers, particularly those bearing the stamp of independent bodies such as the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) or the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), can have an adverse impact on bankability.

Jaime Hector of Eiser Infrastructure Partners, an independent equity fund manager that has interests in the 50MW Aries Solar Termoeléctrica and Dioxipe Solar projects in Spain, explains that while investors rarely read technical literature themselves, they depend on others who do.

“We tend to rely on partners,” he says. “We are not experts in the technology per se, so we have partners who are more into it than us. We take a view on what their recommendations are. Our partners are engineering and construction firms.”

Dr Eduardo Zarza Moya, of Spain’s Almeria Solar Platform (Plataforma Solar de Almería or PSA in Spanish), adds: “Not just for solar thermal, but for any new technology, you need demonstration projects usually financed through public funds.

“This gives the technology credibility for investors and for society in general. Going through a pilot or demonstration plant phase is practically essential in any area of science once you get past an initial discovery. And that is when investors start to get interested.”

He continues: “For something to be commercially viable you have to make a bet on the demonstration phase. For that, you need specialist centres and installations.”

Helping with investment

Studies such as those provided by the PSA, which is run by Spain’s Centre for Energy, Environmental and Technology Investigation (Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas or CIEMAT in Spanish), can thus clearly help with investment.

But given the limited number of centres worldwide that contribute to CSP research (predominantly DLR, CIEMAT, NREL and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia), there is also a place for studies by engineers on a company payroll.

At the Solar Power and Chemical Energy Systems (SolarPACES) conference held in Las Vegas, USA, in September 2013, for example, the CSP enhanced oil recovery (EOR) company GlassPoint Solar presented two technical papers alongside Petroleum Development Oman.

A paper titled ‘Performance of an Enclosed Trough EOR System in South Oman’ examined the performance metrics to date of GlassPoint’s 7MW solar EOR project in Oman, describing plant reliability, rate of steam and uptime during the first four months of operation.

A second paper, ‘Construction of an Enclosed Trough EOR System in South Oman’, provided an overview of the challenges posed by the construction of a CSP system in a remote oilfield environment.

Findings included the fact that GlassPoint has been able to use solar power to exceed its contracted performance by an average of 10%, and that its technology is capable of using feed-water with up to 30,000 parts per million of dissolved solids and still produce 80% quality steam.

Lead author Ben Bierman, vice president of engineering for GlassPoint, said in a press release: “These results show that solar steam is a viable, proven option for thermal enhanced oil recovery in oilfields around the world.

Cost reduction

“The demonstrated build time, performance and smooth integration with oilfield operations have validated GlassPoint’s enclosed trough architecture and cost reduction roadmap.”

Such self-published studies might not carry all the weight of a piece of independent research, but could still help with investment decisions.

After all, SolarPACES papers are subject to a rigorous peer review process and have to conform to strict criteria regarding originality and significance.

Josefin Berg, senior analyst for solar power at IHS, says company-sponsored studies can shed light on areas where there is currently little operational data, although this has to be tempered with the knowledge that the company will naturally be trying to sell itself.

“The way the industry is struggling, you have to take it with a grain of salt and read it carefully,” she says. “It’s part of the lobbying effort.”

Nevertheless, she says: “It can be that they come out with some good points. What we will do is we will look at them for future technology developments. It’s often an indication of where the technology will go. It can be seen as an indication of potential.”

The overall message is that in such a diverse and rapidly evolving market as CSP, any data is better than none. “You need information, and this is part of the answer,” Berg says.

To respond to this article, please write to the author Jason Deign.