The SunShot Initiative supports research and development of concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies that reduce the cost of solar energy. CSP helps to achieve the SunShot Initiative cost targets with systems that can supply solar power on demand, even when there is no sunlight, through the use of thermal storage. Since SunShot’s inception, the levelized cost of electricity for CSP has decreased about 36 percent, from $0.21 cents per kilowatt hour to $0.13 cents per kilowatt hour, already over half of the way toward achieving the SunShot goal of $0.06 per kilowatt hour.
2014 was the largest year ever in the U.S. for CSP--more than 767 megawatts of new CSP generation came online with the completion of Ivanpah, Genesis Solar’s second phase, and Abengoa’s Mojave Solar. SolarReserve’s 110 MW Crescent Dunes came online in late 2015 and is the largest molten-salt power tower CSP plant in commercial operation in the world.
Research and Development
The SunShot Initiative supports the development of novel CSP technologies that will help to lower cost, increase efficiency, and provide more reliable performance when compared to current technologies. These projects demonstrate new concepts in the collector, receiver, thermal storage, heat transfer fluids, and power cycle subsystems, as well as technologies that will lower operations and management costs. The SunShot CSP program is most interested in transformative concepts with the potential to break through existing performance barriers, such as efficiency and temperature limitations.
DOE provides funding, through competitive awards, to industry, national laboratories, and universities with the shared goal of making large-scale dispatchable solar energy systems cost competitive without subsidies by the end of the decade. You can find a full list of SunShot CSP competitive awards prior to May 2014 in the SunShot Initiative Portfolio Book.
Concentrating Solar Power 101
CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to heat. Thermal energy can then be used to produce electricity via a turbine or heat engine driving a generator. Because CSP technologies collect solar energy and convert it to thermal energy that power a generator and be stored, they can be used either as a flexible provider of electricity, such as a natural gas “peaker” plant, or as a baseload source of electricity similar to a traditional nuclear or coal plant. CSP can also be deployed as fossil-fuel backup/hybridization that allows existing fossil fuel projects to run cleaner while operating at the same or lower cost. In the U.S. alone, between 11 and 21 gigawatts of CSP could be built and integrated into existing fossil fuel plants in the United States to reduce their carbon emissions – that’s enough electricity to power to between 3 million and 6 million homes.