Ideas for saving solar-thermal technology

MIT Technology Review  takes a hopeful stab at saving solar thermal technology by looking at the technological improvements that might help make the tech competitive with solar photovoltaic. Five years ago when solar panel technology was double the cost it is today, solar thermal made lots of sense. But plummeting costs of polysilicon, the raw material that drives part of the cost of solar PV, along with cut throat Chinese competition sent solar PV prices into a spiral.
So what is the leading thought on how to make solar thermal competitive? For starters, solar thermal’s major edge is that because it can heat up a substance like molten salt, it can store energy. That would solve one major problem with solar PV. Solar PV systems must always enter a grid with some sort of grid storage, often battery technology, which is expensive. One other idea is to drastically reduce the cost of the mirrors, motors and gearboxes which keep the mirrors correctly positioned in relation to the sun and the steam turbine towers. The solution would be to replace the current systems with cheaper actuators and pneumatics which can be built at existing manufacturing facilities.
Finally, one engineering improvement would be to figure out a way to run solar thermal plants at close to double the 650 degree Celsius temperatures that they currently operate at. This would increase efficiency and energy output. To do so would require material science improvements that include new types of salt and glass. Startup Halotechnics is working on this strategy.
At the end of the day, the difficulties of solar thermal are a test case in how quickly the competitive landscape can impact your business model. This is relevant today when we consider natural gas prices and how they will impact renewable energy pricing going forward. With a commodity like energy, it will always be critical to consider pricing movements in the larger energy economy.