Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2010

Concentrating Solar Power in China and India: A Spatial Analysis of Technical Potential and the Cost of Deployment

Kevin Ummel

July 2010

Center for Global Development


Coal power generation in China and India is expected to double and triple, respectively, over the next 20 years, increasing exposure to fuel price volatility, exacerbating local air pollution, and hastening global climate change. Concentrating solar power (CSP) is a growing source of utility-scale, pollution-free electricity, but its potential in Asia remains largely unexamined. High-resolution spatial data are used to identify areas suitable for CSP and estimate power generation and cost under alternative land-use scenarios. Total technical potential exceeds current coal power output by a factor of 16 to 23 in China and 3 to 4 in India. A CSP expansion program and attendant transmission requirements are simulated with the goal of providing 20 percent of electricity in both countries by midcentury. Under conservative assumptions, the program is estimated to require subsidies of $340 billion in present dollars; coal-associated emissions of 96 GtCO2eq are averted at an average abatement cost of $30 per tCO2eq. Estimated costs are especially sensitive to the assumed rate of technological learning, emphasizing the importance of committed public policy and financing to reduce investment risk, encourage expansion of manufacturing capacity, and achieve long-term cost reductions. The results highlight the need for spatially explicit modeling of renewable power technologies and suggest that existing subsidies might be better used through integrated planning for large-scale solar and wind deployment that exploits spatiotemporal complementarities and shared infrastructure.