Solar Thermal Leader Ausra — Sold!

I’m sure many readers are aware of the incredible development in solar thermal / CSP (concentrated solar power). French energy giant Areva, which has a large nuclear portfolio, bought Ausra, and says it will use the acquisition to become “the world leader in concentrated solar power.” Here is a discussion I just had with my colleague John Hugo:

John writes:

It’s interesting that they were able to sell with little installed base and no real history of operation. The water cooling operation uses quite a bit of water and the dry version still uses water but much less and output is reduced. They have good people but they are not professional salespeople. …. I think it’s a hedge vs. nuclear which I don’t think will cut it due to the storage issue which has not been solved.

But despite recent political support re: nuclear why do it if you can do solar at less cost?

… and I reply


Yes, this is quite a development, for sure. Here’s my take for what it’s worth:

CSP is extremely capital intensive. Projects require huge piles of cash, and happen only when the underwriting company is strong enough to present a meaningful warranty. I happen to know (based on my interview with the company’s founder David Mills) that Ausra was hungry to partner with (or, apparently, sell to) a company that could make all this happen.

Everything else you write about CSP is correct, if perhaps overstated. It DOES use water for cooling, and there IS a storage issue. There’s also a transmission issue, as the power is generated in the desert. But IMO, these are challenges that can be — and are being — overcome. First and most obviously, there is a good correlation between the sun’s shining and human activity. But more importantly, advancements that are being made constantly in smart grid, high voltage DC, and molten salt energy storage, in my mind at least, make CSP the top bet for our energy future.

On the other hand, I believe that there is no future whatsoever for the nuclear industry. I know there are people who disagree (and that I’ll be hearing from them any minute). But to me, no amount of money and the lobbying, subterfuge, and disinformation it buys will get that industry past the incredible dangers, outrageous costs overruns, and decade-long delays that are intrinsic to the very nature of what they do.

With all their financial (and thus political) strength, I don’t doubt that you’ll continue to hear claptrap about supporting nuclear. There is a word for this: corruption; it’s a regrettable but deeply entrenched part of our daily lives — whether we recognize it or not. But having said this, I very much doubt that you’ll live to see another new nuke actually put into operation in the US.

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7 comments on “Solar Thermal Leader Ausra — Sold!
  1. geopark says:

    I appreciate and generally agree with your nuclear power sentiment. I do have a question about your closing sentence “I very much doubt that you’ll live to see another new nuke actually put into operation.” Do you mean in the US since are not China and others building new Nuclear Plants now?

  2. Hank Beck says:

    corruption; (subterfuge, disinformation, etc.) I hate these, but I must agree with you that those are the biggest problems of our existence on this planet.
    In this Obama mode the Republicans seem to demonstrate a renewed vigor for this type of behavior. How do we overcome basic human nature, greed, selfishness, lies etc?

    • Thanks for writing, Hank. You ask the same question that I constantly pose to myself. And, to be honest, my answer differs according to my mood. Often I think there is no hope here; I see a dwindling spiral brought on by ruthlessness and greed, fueled by society’s tendency toward apathy and numbness. Other days I wake up believing that we can somehow turn this around. I can tell you one thing: If we do revert this trend, it will because people like you and I spoke up. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  3. Alex C. says:

    Again…this blog site just simply uses more scare tactics without facts to try to make nuclear power look evil and wrong. Of course not ONE fact is shared to support the claims. I suspect because nuclear material also relates to weapons that have been used in war and we had a couple power plant failures in the past that makes some people still “scared” of the technology for today and the future. That is like blaming guns for people’s deaths rather than the people pulling the trigger. Look at how many deaths there are each year by car crashes….but we do not ban cars. 90%+ of car crashes are caused by driver error. The 2 historic power plant failures were due to poor design (Russia) and mismanagement by humans (3-mile Island) and not CAUSED by nuclear power. We humans have the intelligence and capability to use nuclear power safely and effectively as clearly witnessed today. About 16% of the worlds electricity is produced by nuclear power “today” and you don’t here of any deaths do you? Solar power of course also comes from nuclear reactions…and we love solar power right!

    The truth is nuclear power is VERY safe and perhaps one of the CLEANEST and GREENIST ways to produce energy. For those who actually buy into the global warming farce and calls to reduce CO2 you may know that nuclear power plants produce no CO2. The recycling technology has evolved to make the true waste very small and it is safely stored. As we know France has used it for decades and it handles about 75% of their needs “safely” and “greenly”. The USA is at 19.6% and our citizens and politicians are finally waking up to the fact that it is a rational strategy to help our future energy policy. 63% of Americans now support the use of nuclear power. Also if nuclear plants replaced all the coal plants over the next century our air would also be MUCH cleaner. To learn some FACTS about nuclear energy see the following web sites:

    The truth is that humans on the planet need energy and we must use multiple sources based on local resources and economics. Of course we must assure safe designs, safe operational practices, minimize pollution and harm to life and most countries do respect this and live up to it. We will need to use multiple sources – fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas), bio-renewable fuels, solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, etc. to best meet the increase in demand to enable the increase in standard of living of all of us…especially in emerging nations.

    Those that keep using irrational generalizations to try to scare people away from nuclear power really need to fully study the facts with an “objective” mind, bring themselves to today’s technology world, consider the “green” aspects of nuclear, the truth about the safety record, and re-think the bases of their premises, thinking, and positions.

    Nuclear power is safe, clean, efficient, and economical and will be a key part of our energy solutions into the future!

  4. barry says:

    Can’t see nuclear ever being a long term benefit to our energy needs. The waste no matter how negligible is still a great environmental issue. The cost of the storage in Nevada is unknown and may never be truly assessed. The cost and damage of mining urainium isn’t mentioned by Alex and I don’t know how it compares to the raw materials in solar panels and their ilk. The part that really kills it for me is the risk. The gov’t is the only insurance available because of the great risk. Humans will always be running the show and WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES. I will leave out the terrorism issues of another radiation source. Then u have transmission costs and parasitic losses. The most sensible thing to me is rooftop solar or maybe a fuel cell on the end of each block if hydrogen can be sorted out. Alex, would u consider living next door to a nuke facility? I WOULD live next door to u if u had rooftop solar though.

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  1. […] to bet on the wrong horse. Note, in particular, that earlier this year, French energy giant Areva bought Ausra, a venture-capitalized CSP innovator interest in molten salt technology is quite […]

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