Scaling Up CSP: How Long Will it Take? Paper No. 050003

Johan Lilliestam, Fengli Du, Alina Gilmanova, Mark Mehos, Zhifeng Wang, Richard Thonig

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Concentrating solar power (CSP) is one of the few scalable technologies capable of delivering dispatchable renewable power. Therefore, many expect it to shoulder a significant share of system balancing in a renewable electricity future powered by cheap, intermittent PV and wind power: the IEA, for example, projects 73 GW CSP by 2030 and several hundred GW by 2050 in its Net-Zero by 2050 pathway. In this paper, we assess how fast CSP can be expected to scale up and how long time it would take to get new, high-efficiency CSP technologies to market, based on observed trends and historical patterns. We find that to meaningfully contribute to net-zero pathways the CSP sector needs to reach and exceed the maximum historical annual growth rate of 30%/year last seen between 2010-2014 and maintain it for at least two decades. Any CSP deployment in the 2020s will rely mostly on mature existing technologies, namely parabolic trough and molten-salt towers, but likely with adapted business models such as hybrid CSP-PV stations, combining the advantages of higher-cost dispatchable and low-cost intermittent power. New third-generation CSP designs are unlikely to play a role in markets during the 2020s, as they are still at or before the pilot stage and, judging from past pilot-to-market cycles for CSP, they will likely not be ready for market deployment before 2030. CSP can contribute to low-cost zero-emission energy systems by 2050, but to make that happen, at the scale foreseen in current energy models, ambitious technology-specific policy support is necessary, as soon as possible and in several countries.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages10
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5700-88284


  • concentrated solar power
  • emission spectroscopy
  • energy model
  • renewable electricity
  • renewable energy
  • solar thermal technologies
  • wind energy


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