Analysis of Solar Power as Single Source of Electricity for Middle East and North Africa Countries

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The power sector is living a revolution. The cost of clean technologies is declining faster than expected and deployment targets are being achieved with relative easiness. However, as of today, to think of an entire renewable power sector still seems a utopic objective because of two main factors: variability of renewable resources and cost competitiveness with conventional sources. A lot has been written about the future of solar technologies. Different paces of cost decline of solar photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) in the recent times creates uncertainty about the predominance of one or the other. Additionally, while PV is much cheaper nowadays, CSP can provide dispatchable electricity which is highly valued in order to instantaneously balance demand and supply. Battery systems (BESS) to be integrated with PV may seem offer a feasible alternative, but the costs of batteries are still high. Different entities are trying to forecast the cost evolution for these technologies but there is still no consensus about a long-term predominance of any of these technologies for providing 24-hour solar-based generation. The present study intends to analyze the possibility of supplying an entire national system with solar energy only, comparing the different possible alternatives face to face. The analysis uses the two mentioned solar technologies: PV and CSP for providing electricity 24/7 in fifteen different countries. The selected geographic area for the study is the MENA region, which counts with excellent solar resources and developed power systems. The study simulates an economic dispatching of solar generation technologies, optimizing the total cost of generation for one year in different cost scenarios (2017, 2025 and 2030) using the existing future cost projections for both technologies. This analysis assumes that the only available technologies for supply the whole demand in the countries are these two solar technologies, ignoring hypothetically, the actual existence of other technologies. It intends to shed some light about how two solar technologies—namely solar photovoltaics with battery systems and concentrated solar power—can coexist in a power system and how we can compare the techno-economic performance of both on a level playing field The analysis is based on a linear programming model that minimizes the annual cost of electricity generation following the load profile and radiation in each country. A common base of 100 MW peak demand has been adopted for the sake of simplicity and comparability. The main findings of the study show that: - Solar technologies only (with storage) can be a feasible alternative for providing power to an entire system. However, solar technologies are still far from being a competitive option when compared with conventional sources, although, if costs evolution is as expected, it might be in line with them by 2030. Moreover, in countries where baseload is based on oil fired plants solar baseload might be already competitive. - Assuming the expected forecasts for the technologies cost evolution, cost is not the only and/or main driver. The availability of their respective solar resource (DNI and GHI) will still be a critical factor for optimizing the generation mix. This critical role of solar resource will be accentuated as technologies costs decrease. - Finally, solar technologies are complementary in almost all scenarios. Whatever is the cost evolution both technologies are always present and none of them is completely discarded. In terms of storage technologies, the study shows that thermal storage associated with CSP is heavily predominant over BESS.
solar power, storage, MENA