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Content displaying: CAPEX

Concentrating Solar Power

Capital Expenditures (CAPEX)

Definition: For plants whose construction duration exceeds one year, CAPEX costs represent technology costs that lag current-year estimates by at least one year. For CSP plants, the construction period is typically three years.

For the 2020 ATB—and based on key sources ((EIA 2016); (C. Turchi 2010); (Craig Turchi and Heath 2013))—the CSP generation plant envelope is defined to include items noted in the Summary of Technology Innovations by Scenario table above.

In the 2020 ATB, CAPEX does not vary with resource.

Base Year: The CAPEX estimate (with a base year of 2018) is approximately $7,700 kWe in 2018$. It is for a representative power tower with 10 hours of storage and a solar multiple (SM) estimate for a given year represents CAPEX of a new plant that reaches commercial operation in that year (i.e., SAM 2018 CSP costs are reflected in the ATB scenario data in year 2021).

Future Years: Three cost projections are developed for CSP technologies:

  • The Conservative Scenario: no change in CAPEX, O&M, or capacity factor from current estimates (2021 for CSP) to 2050; consistent across all renewable energy technologies in the 2020 ATB.
  • The Moderate Scenario is based on recently published literature projections and NREL judgment of U.S. costs for future CAPEX at 2025, 2030, 2040 and 2050 ((IRENA 2016); (Breyer et al. 2017); (Murphy et al. 2019); (Feldman et al. 2016); (World Bank 2014)). From analysis of these sources, CSP costs could fall by approximately 25% from the ATB CSP 2021 costs of $6,570/kWe to approximately $4,880/kWe by 2030. From 2030 to 2050, CSP CAPEX is projected to fall to approximately $3,950/kWe.
  • The Advanced Scenario is based on the lower bound of the literature sample, and on the Power to Change report (IRENA 2016).

Considering currently reported CAPEX for plants either announced or in construction, $6,570/kWe in the ATB in 2021 and $4,880/kWe in 2030 is possible. For example, the Noor III CSP power station in Morocco—a 150-MWe molten salt power tower with 7.5 hours of storage that became operational in 2018—has an estimated CAPEX of $6,500/kWe in 2016$ (Kistner 2016). And the DEWA 700-MWe CSP project in Dubai—a 600-MWe parabolic trough and 100-MWe molten salt tower, each with 12–15 hours of storage, which is in construction—has an estimated bundled CAPEX of $5,500/kWe in 2018$ ((Shemer 2018), (Craig Turchi et al. 2019)).

A range of literature projections is shown in the chart below to illustrate the comparison with the 2020 ATB. When comparing the 2020 ATB projections with other projections, note that there are major differences in technology assumptions, radiation conditions, field sizes, storage configurations, and other factors. As shown in the chart, the ATB 2021 CSP Moderate projection is in line with other recently analyzed projections from other organizations. The Low cost ATB projection is based on the lower bound of the literature sample, and on the Power to Change report (IRENA 2016).

Use the following table to view the components of CAPEX.


The following references are specific to this page; for all references in this ATB, see References.

Breyer, Christian, Afanasyeva, Svetlana, Brakemeier, Dietmar, Engelhard, Manfred, Giuliano, Stefano, Puppe, Michael, Schenk, Heiko, Hirsch, Tobias, & Moser, Massimo. (2017). Assessment of Mid-Term Growth Assumptions and Learning Rates for Comparative Studies of CSP and Hybrid PV-Battery Power Plants. AIP Conference Proceedings, 1850, 160001-1 - 160001-9. AIP Publishing.

EIA (2016). Capital Cost Estimates for Utility Scale Electricity Generating Plants. U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Feldman, David, Margolis, Robert, Denholm, Paul, & Stekli, Joseph. (2016). Exploring the Potential Competitiveness of Utility-Scale Photovoltaics plus Batteries with Concentrating Solar Power, 2015-2030. (No. NREL/TP-6A20-66592). National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

IRENA (2016). The Power to Change: Solar and Wind Cost Reduction Potential to 2025. International Renewable Energy Agency.

Kistner, Rainer (2016). Update on Recent Developments in the CSP Technology. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

Murphy, Caitlin, Sun, Yinong, Cole, Wesley, Maclaurin, Galen, Turchi, Craig, & Mehos, Mark. (2019). The Potential Role of Concentrating Solar Power Within the Context of DOE's 2030 Solar Cost Targets. (No. NREL/TP-6A20-71912). National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Shemer, Nadav (2018). CSP capex costs fall by almost half as developers shift towards China and Middle East.

Turchi, C. (2010). Parabolic Trough Reference Plant for Cost Modeling with the Solar Advisor Model (SAM). (No. NREL/TP-550-47605). National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Turchi, Craig, & Heath, Garvin. (2013). Molten Salt Power Tower Cost Model for the System Advisor Model (SAM). (No. NREL/TP-5500-57625). National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Turchi, Craig, Boyd, Matthew, Kesseli, Devon, Kurup, Parthiv, Mehos, Mark, Neises, Ty, Sharan, Prashant, Wagner, Michael, & Wendelin, Timothy. (2019). CSP Systems Analysis: Final Project Report. (No. NREL/TP-5500-72856). National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

World Bank (2014). Project Appraisal Document on a Proposed Loan in the Amount of EUR234.50 Million and US$80 Million (US$400 Million Equivalent) and a Proposed Loan from the Clean Technology Fund in the Amount of US$119 Million to the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy with Guarantee from the Kingdom of Morocco for the Noor-Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power Plant Project. (No. PAD1007). The World Bank.

Developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.