For such a long time, it is widely acknowledged that Tower and Parabolic Trough technologies have one more promising future than other technologies. And both have successful large-scale power plants around the world, while the Fresnel solar-thermal power generation system doesn’t seem to be lucky enough to be attached deserved importance so far. However, once FRENELL, a brand new company appeared on CPC 2016, many people showed strong interest to this company, especially their DMS techbology. CSPPLAZA journalist interviewed FRENELL’s CEO and CTO, Martin Selig and Max Mertins to learn several questions concerned by people.
Figure: An interview with Max Mertins (left) and Martin Selig (right)
FRENELL and Current Situation of Novatec Solar
CSPPLAZA: We knew that, in 2015, you established FRENELL as a result of a management buy-out of the former business Novatec Solar. Recently, we published your White Paper on our website, which was the first time that people in China know this new company. And people all want to know what is the current situation of Novatec Solar?
Martin Selig: First of all, both Max and I have been the founders of Novatec in 2005. And we also had foreign investments, who kept all the financewe need to develop everything we have today, such as, the product, PE1 plant, and to excute PE2, PE indusrty project.
but then in 2012, the Spain government decided to reduce the tariff overnight, at the same time, it’ s cheaper for Novatec to do CSP, which means that earnings of CSP business became less, which, of course, created a significant difficuties for CSP whose future was not clear.
Secondly, just before, ABB had already made an invesment in Novatec solar, but because there was not clearity whether CSP industry would have a future or not, they decided to disinvest from Novatec Solar, and some remaining shareholders including myself also thought it would take so long time, like more than 3 years to waiting for the market, so we made a decision to disinvest from Novatec Solar, and we entered into a discussion about how to preceed CSP business on our own. Finally, we founded the company FRENELL in 2015. Taking overall future oriented aspects from Novatec, which means kept same personel, patterns, pacts and business contacts, that’s easier to transfer into a new company to develop a career you dreamt about than to take over the share of existing company.
Regarding to the future of Novatec Solar, it’s still an existing but inactive company, all the achievements we have made was continuation of Novatec, and now we still kept using those achievements from Novatec.
About DMS ® Technology
CSPPLAZA: Max, can you introduce your DMS Technology to us briefly?
Max Mertins: we have always been specialized in Direct Molten Salt (DMS®) Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technology in Lineal Fresnel power plants. And DMS Technology is from direct molten salt, which is a kind of storage and transfer medium. And it is different from the DSG that uses water as medium.
CSPPLAZA: not long ago, you published a white paper on your website officially, in which DMS technology was described as a major breakthrough, and the thermal energy storage time can achieve 15 hours. Is that correct?
Max Mertins: yes, but actually, the thermal storage time can be adjustable. You can store heat even more or less according to different demands of every power plant. That’s all question abot optimization of various power plants, which means the question is what is needed for specific project. Some may need 10 hours and others may need only 6 hours. Therefore, 16-hour- thermal storage time may not necessary for some markets because they donot have the demand for electricity early in the morning. And then, maybe too large storage is not needed by this kind of plants and 4 hours is enough. But a main thing which is also important is that the more storage you have, to a certain circumstance, the lower CSP fee you need. Because you are using your own power block system which is much more efficient than someone’s plant with no storage.
CSPPLAZA: It’s widely acknowledged that Tower and Parabolic trough technology will have more promising future, and why did you choose a different way from others？ Untill now, there is no practical commercial project on this technology, and why do you insist to do the technology?
Max Mertins: First of all, the current trend goes for molten salt which is identified as the most promising and evalvable heat storage medium. So trust so far it only has to be used with combination of other heat transfer medium like oil. There are always trough plants using oil to transfer heat and then using molten salt to store heat. But the problem is this kind of system cannot get higher temperature which is possible to salt, because there is a limitation about the salt. We’re talking about convenience aspect, and molten salt is easier to be applied to Fresnel power plants, which depends on its nature of this technology. With fixed receivers, we don’t have to move them from right to left, we don’t have to find these composition technics, other media like water, oil to combine with salt in our system, so we are without question the most appropriate one for molten salt.
Martin Selig: If you just compare share between three technologies before 1GW pilot plants in China, and compare this to the installed capacity, then you see the Chinese CSP market has much more aware of the opportunity coming from inervitive technologies. The share of Fresnel power plants in existing market is less than 1%, and here the share of it in China has been 25%. So this is a big difference. With a much wider space, we will of course contribute ourselves to achieve our goal.
CSPPLAZA: what’s the competitive advantage of Fresnel when compared with Tower system? And have you heard the news about a small fire occurred at the Ivanpah Solar electric generating system? What’s the cause of it you think?
Max Mertins: Apart from cost reduction, our system are more suitable to use molten salt in safe manner, whhich is also one important competitive advantage of our system. Compared to Tower whose storage and transfer medium is also molten salt, and there is a saying goes that, at the beginning of CSP industry, Tower is famous for the highest temperature and the lowest heat loss. But it turns out this is not true. Because if you do some calculations, you will find out that Lineal Fresnel system like ours has lower heat losses than Tower. We can make use of these commercial available vacuum tubes with selected coating, shield tube and enveloped tube. But in Tower system, the collected solar by mirrors has to be reflected to the receiver on the top of high tower. And the heats will loss during the reflection. Their engineers have always been tried to find solutions to solve this problem since they didn’t attain their goal as they claimed. On the contrary, we don’t need to be upset for this problem and we can minimize heat loss with cheaper way. Besides, we are more reliable because we have no transfer process going on directly in the air. About the fire on Ivanpah, as an engineer, I think there must be something going wrong. The result we all see is that one part goes wrong, the whole system has to stop for a couple of weeks. Different from Tower, our system has been designed with many loops to make sure that one problem will not impact the whole system.
About FIT policy with RMB1.1 and Alternatvie list of 20 pilot projects
CSPPLAZA: Under the condition of 1.1 FIT policy, what do you think about this price, does it meet your expectations?
Martin Selig: I think it is good and it should give a chance for all technologies, definitely give a high FIT for those to start more competitve technologies, but I think it’s a suffient level for all 3 tower, trough and Fresnel. And of course, we think the price is not such high but 1.1 is good for those starting those newer technologies and those who want to invest in technologies. About the benefit, it’s based on experience. The most competitvie technologies are able to offer the more competitive price and then to have more competitive situation to somehow determine which technology should take the lead.Of course, the higher, the better. But that’s not necessary.
CSPPLAZA: The other day, we sent you a alternative shortlist of 20 demonstration projects, there are 9 Tower, 7 parabolic trough and 4 fresnel projects, what do you think of this percentage?
Martin Selig: It’s very happy for me to see all these technologies in the first round of demonstration projects, and I think it also very important to have all these technologies. You see, more than three has more statistic bases each group and let’s see after a couple of years which technology turns out to even more be a better one in time of techinical reliablity, cost efficiency and the share of these technologies in next round of demonstration projects.
The future layout of Frenell in China market
During the CPC 2016 conference, Martin and Max have tried really hard to find possible partners to talk. “All that we are interested are those companies whose name includes the key word – investment,” Martin said.
Figure: Martin’s talking with Kefu FU, partner of Greater China of US Renewables Groups (USRG)
In his presentation in this conference, Martin showed people their recent successful experience to prove that their technology is mature enough to be widely used. As a matter of fact, they have participated in three Fresnel power plants across the world, including Puerto Errado 1 and Puerto Errado 2 in Spain, with repectively installed capacity of 1.4MW and 30MW, and at the same time, they also built a project combined by CSP and traditional coal-fired power system, the whole capacity of which is 9.3 MWth.
“We not only expect to appeal to some investors to join us in China, besides, we hope to build cooperation relationship with more manufactures of various equipment and private power plants. After more than three years, we have gathered very rich experience in operating and maintain the Fresnel power plants using DMS technology.”