The Oil Drum provides an optimistic view of solar thermal power /concentrating solar power as a cost/effective, clean source of energy in the near future. Excerpts below.
Large scale solar power generation using solar thermal power appears to be the most promising mechanism for generating clean electricty. Click on the link below for details.
Solar thermal power is often referred to as concentrating solar power, or CSP.
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors combined with tracking systems to focus sunlight which is then used to generate electricity. The primary mechanisms for concentrating sunlight are the parabolic trough, the solar power tower (not to be confused with solar updraft towers) and the parabolic dish. The high temperatures produced by CSP systems can also be used to provide heat and steam for a variety of applications (cogeneration). CSP technologies require direct sunlight (insolation) to function and are of limited use in locations with significant cloud cover.
Solar thermal power plants have been in commercial use in southern California since 1985. An area of desert around 250 km by 250 km covered with CSP power generation could supply all the world’s current electricity demand.
Solar thermal plants can be built in their entirety within a few years – much faster than many conventional power projects. Solar thermal plants are built almost entirely with modular, commodity materials (and thus have short development and construction times) and do not encounter the sort of opposition on environmental grounds that traditional forms of power generation like coal and nuclear face.
One of the key differentiating factors between solar thermal power and solar PV is that heat energy is more easily (and efficiently) stored than electricity, with solar thermal plants often combining energy storage into the design to enable around-the-clock, dispatchable electricity generation.