One of the world’s leading developers of solar energy says that solar tower technology withstoragewill be competitive with baseload gas generation by 2020, and able to perform similar functions -- without the emissions.

Abengoa, the Spanish-owned developer of a range of concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies and solar PV, said the dramatic declines in capital costs and rising efficiency levels mean that large-scale CSP will be competing with combined cycle gas turbines on cost, efficiency and utility by the end of the decade.

Abengoa last week broke ground on a 110-megawatt molten salt storage plant, which combines solar tower technology with 18 hours of thermal energy storage based on molten salt.

The Cerro Dominador plant is being built in Chile’s Atacama Desert, a region with some of the highest concentrations of solar radiation in the world. It is the first solar-thermal plant for direct electricity production in Latin America.

CEO and chairman Manuel Sánchez Ortega said the new plant will have a capacity factor of around 80 percent, which puts it as high as most fossil fuel generators.

“This is a significant step forward to be competitive with conventional generation,” he told analysts in a telephone briefing on the firm's first-quarter results last week.

In Chile, solar is already competing with fossil fuels. Cerro Dominador will provide baseload power generation to mining operations in Chile, which pay huge costs for fossil fuel generation.

The graphs below from Abengoa explain how the technology is becoming competitive with conventional generation.

Ortega said there are numerous opportunities emerging in other markets. Another round of tenders for solar thermal technology will be held in South Africa, a similar program is occurring in northern Africa, and he said there are “amazing opportunities” in Mexico.

Cerro Dominador is one of a number of groundbreaking projects that Abengoa is undertaking. Last week, it opened the world’s largest solar PV plant with single-axis tracking -- the 206-megawatt Mount Signal plant in California. Last year, it opened the world’s largest CSP plant with storage facility in California. It is also nearing completion of the 280-megawatt Mojave parabolic trough plant in California.

In South Africa, the firm is building a 50-megawatt plant using more traditional solar tower technology. Abengoa has also unveiled an innovative large aperture trough plant at its research and demonstration facility in Spain, and has a 2-megawatt demonstration of its “superheated solar tower” technology.

Abengoa is also about to begin construction of the 110-megawatt Ashalim parabolic trough project in Israel, the Xina Solar One 100-megawatt parabolic trough plant with five-hour storage in South Africa, which will be located next to the 50-megawatt KaXu Solar One project currently under construction.

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Editor's note: This article is reposted from RenewEconomy. Author credit goes to Giles Parkinson.