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Life Cycle Analysis of Distributed Concentrating Solar Combined Heat and Power

Zack Norwood and Daniel Kammen; Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley. Environmental Research Letters 7 (2012) 044016 (10pp).


We report on life cycle assessment (LCA) of the economics, global warming potential and water (both for desalination and water use in operation) for a distributed concentrating solar combined heat and power (DCS-CHP) system. Detailed simulation of system performance across 1020 sites in the US combined with a sensible cost allocation scheme informs this LCA. We forecast a levelized cost of $0.25 kWh-1electricity and $0.03 kWh-1thermal, for a system with a life cycle global warming potential of ~80 gCO2 eq kWh-1of electricity and ~10 gCOeq kWh-1 thermal, sited in Oakland, California. On the basis of the economics shown for air cooling, and the fact that any combined heat and power system reduces the need for cooling while at the same time boosting the overall solar efficiency of the system, DCS-CHP compares favorably to other electric power generation systems in terms of minimization of water use in the maintenance and operation of the plant.

The outlook for water desalination coupled with distributed concentrating solar combined heat and power is less favorable. At a projected cost of $1.40 m-3, water desalination with
DCS-CHP would be economical and practical only in areas where water is very scarce or moderately expensive, primarily available through the informal sector, and where contaminated or salt water is easily available as feed-water. It is also interesting to note that $0.40–$1.90 m-3 is the range of water prices in the developed world, so DCS-CHP
desalination systems could also be an economical solution there under some conditions.

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