What are Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Systems?

Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) systems have many components that help convert sunlight into usable energy. In CSP plants, mirrors reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a focused point or line where it is collected and converted into heat, which can be stored and used to produce electricity or deliver the heat to an industrial process whenever it is needed. CSP systems are the integrated collection of the many different processes and components required to collect, convert, store, and deliver solar-thermal heat. Learn more about how CSP works.

Why is Research on CSP Systems Important?

Examining and analyzing CSP systems in their entirety can identify areas of improvement that will lower the cost and improve the value of the delivered energy. This is particularly important for new CSP designs, like high-temperature ‘Gen3 CSP.’ The complexity of these systems requires system designers to optimize the performance of all of the different plant components together, to be able to achieve SETO’s goals. Conducting CSP systems research enables CSP technologies to develop sophisticated roadmaps to be competitive with other dispatchable power generators. The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) set a cost goal of $0.05 per kilowatt-hour for baseload CSP plants, with 12 or more hours of thermal energy storage. Learn more about SETO’s CSP goals.

In October 2021, Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) published a DOE-funded publicly accessible digital CSP archive. SNL solar researchers and librarians collected, digitized, and cataloged a host of historical CSP research documents, including reports, memos, blueprints, photos, and more. Sharing this information can help make the technology more accessible and the path to commercialization faster by preventing new researchers and companies from having to reinvent the wheel.

SETO Research on CSP Systems

SETO funds projects that focus on designing, optimizing, and analyzing CSP systems as a whole, including the design of fully integrated high-temperature thermal transport systems that consist of receivers, thermal storage and transport, and primary heaters. These key components vary depending on the matter used for heat transfer. Several of SETO’s funding programs have projects that focus on CSP systems:

To view specific CSP systems projects, search the Solar Energy Research Database.

Additional Resources

Learn more about CSP research, other solar energy research in SETO, and current and former SETO funding programs.