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:
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2022 Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Research, Development & Demonstration funding program – developing next-generation plant designs that will operate at high efficiency with low-cost thermal energy storage.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2020 funding program – improving CSP systems by accelerating the commercialization of the supercritical carbon dioxide Brayton cycle and providing operational experience for utilities, operators, and CSP developers.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Lab Call Fiscal Year 2019-21 funding program – improving the materials and components used within high-temperature CSP systems, including the solar field, receiver, heat transfer medium, thermal storage, and operations and maintenance processes.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2019 funding program – developing thermal storage technologies to make solar energy available on demand, as well as technologies that reduce the cost and improve performance of CSP plants.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2018 funding program – advancing components found in CSP sub-systems, including collectors, power cycles, and thermal transport systems, while pursuing new methods for introducing innovation to CSP research.
- Generation 3 Concentrating Solar Power Systems funding program – advancing high-temperature components and develop integrated designs with thermal energy storage that can reach operating temperatures greater than 700° C.
To view specific CSP systems projects, search the Solar Energy Research Database.
- Concentrating Solar Power Gen3 Demonstration Roadmap
- The Potential Role of Concentrating Solar Power within the Context of DOE’s 2030 Solar Cost Targets
- Concentrating Solar Power Best Practices Study
- Evaluating a Concentrating Solar Power Plant as an Extended-Duration Peaking Resource
- A Guide to Implementing Concentrating Solar Power in Production Cost Models
- Thermophysical Properties Database of Gen3 CSP Materials
Learn more about CSP research, other solar energy research in SETO, and current and former SETO funding programs.