Corona Bellostas, Blanca and San Miguel Alfaro, Guillermo and Cerrajero, Eduardo
Life cycle assessment of concentrated solar power (CSP) and the influence of hybridising with natural gas.
"The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment", v. 19
Purpose Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plants based on parabolic troughs utilize auxiliary fuels (usually natural gas) to facilitate start-up operations, avoid freezing of HTF and increase power output. This practice has a significant effect on the environmental performance of the technology. The aim of this paper is to quantify the sustainability of CSP and to analyse how this is affected by hybridisation with different natural gas (NG) inputs.
Methods A complete Life Cycle (LC) inventory was gathered for a commercial wet-cooled 50 MWe CSP plant based on parabolic troughs. A sensitivity analysis was conducted to evaluate the environmental performance of the plant operating with different NG inputs (between 0 and 35% of gross electricity generation). ReCiPe Europe (H) was used as LCA methodology. CML 2 baseline 2000 World and ReCiPe Europe E were used for comparative purposes. Cumulative Energy Demands (CED) and Energy Payback Times (EPT) were also determined for each scenario.
Results and discussion Operation of CSP using solar energy only produced the following environmental profile: climate change 26.6 kg CO2 eq/KWh, human toxicity 13.1 kg 1,4-DB eq/KWh, marine ecotoxicity 276 g 1,4-DB eq/KWh, natural land transformation 0.005 m2/KWh, eutrophication 10.1 g P eq/KWh, acidification 166 g SO2 eq/KWh. Most of these impacts are associated with extraction of raw materials and manufacturing of plant components. The utilization NG transformed the environmental profile of the technology, placing increasing weight on impacts related to its operation and maintenance. Significantly higher impacts were observed on categories like climate change (311 kg CO2 eq/MWh when using 35 % NG), natural land transformation, terrestrial acidification and fossil depletion. Despite its fossil nature, the use of NG had a beneficial effect on other impact categories (human and marine toxicity, freshwater eutrophication and natural land transformation) due to the higher electricity output achieved. The overall environmental performance of CSP significantly deteriorated with the use of NG (single score 3.52 pt in solar only operation compared to 36.1 pt when using 35 % NG). Other sustainability parameters like EPT and CED also increased substantially as a result of higher NG inputs. Quasilinear second-degree polynomial relationships were calculated between various environmental performance parameters and NG contributions.
Conclusions Energy input from auxiliary NG determines the environmental profile of the CSP plant. Aggregated analysis shows a deleterious effect on the overall environmental performance of the technology as a result of NG utilization. This is due primarily to higher impacts on environmental categories like climate change, natural land transformation, fossil fuel depletion and terrestrial acidification. NG may be used in a more sustainable and cost-effective manner in combined cycle power plants, which achieve higher energy conversion efficiencies.