The amount of direct solar radiation available is the most important criterion to consider when identifying suitable locations for solar thermal power plants. Another decisive factor is the infrastructure already in place, such as roads, water pipes and fuel lines. Access to the power grid is also crucial, as laying new cables is both expensive and time consuming. Other factors to take into account are the geological and geographic characteristics, such as the soil composition or inclination, as well as the prior use of the land, for example as a nature reserve, restricted military area or oil field.
All of these factors impose severe limitations when searching for potential locations in a particular region and must be considered when assessing the overall potential for generating solar thermal power as well as when searching for a suitable site to actually construct the plant.
At Fraunhofer ISE, we conduct these analyses using GIS (geographic information system) software. The results are clearly displayed on a map, as shown in Fig. 1 for Chile.