Exclusive interview with Professor Dr.-Ing. Frank Dinter, Eskom Chair in Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) and Solar Thermal Energy Research Group (STERG) at the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, Stellenbosch University. He is also a speaker at Clean Power Africa in May.
1) Let’s start by discussing your title, that of Eskom Chair in Concentrating Solar Power (CSP). Does that mean you are a kind of ambassador for CSP?
Maybe that is the right expression. I came to South Africa with the experience and knowledge of how to build and operate solar power stations, as I was the technical director on the owner side of one, a 50 MW parabolic trough plant in Spain, called Andasol 3. So I got a lot of experience, which can be used in South Africa for getting South Africa to be a leading country in CSP.
2) How important is CSP in South Africa’s journey towards becoming a more renewable economy?
CSP is the most promising renewable technology for electricity production for the future. CSP has the big advantage to collect and store heat to produce electricity on demand, meaning also after sunset and during the night. South Africa has started to add solar thermal power plants to its existing power plant park. Soon everybody will recognise CSP plants as having real capacity and that it fits perfectly into the South African grid.
3) Can you give some examples of success stories or case studies?
Many of the CSP plants are now running under stable conditions and performing quite well. Andasol 3 and also some other Spanish solar power plants show successful operation for 24h/7days and are supporting and stabilising the grid.
4) What are the challenges when it comes to solar?
CSP is already a proven technology because it runs satisfactorily in several countries all over the world. The electricity production prices of CSP are coming down and peak power in South Africa is already more expensive than CSP. Component development to reduce the costs further and good operation strategies will help get CSP’s feet off the ground in all the sunny areas of the world.
5) What is your vision for CSP in South Africa and Africa?
South Africa and the surrounding countries have some of the best sunspots on earth. Continuously developing and constructing CSP plants would probably bring a significant part of CSP power into this area for the future. The sun, our resource, is for free! My aim is also to develop South Africa as one of the best competitors in CSP equipment supply.
6) What surprises you about this sector?
I really believe in this technology. I am surprised that many people still do not know about the advantages of CSP with storage.
7) What will be your message at Clean Power Africa?
CSP is the best technology for South Africa for future electricity production. It is already cheaper than new coal fired power stations, if you include all the costs for fuels during a lifetime. So let´s go for it, now.
8) Anything you would like to add?
From my perspective, South Africa is the best place on earth to develop, to use and to export CSP technology.