Concentrating solar power (CSP) systems have different system configurations, but all forms of CSP share similar components. The CSP subprogram funds research and development (R&D) within the industry, national laboratories, and universities to achieve the technical and economic targets for collectors, receivers, power blocks, and thermal storage components within a CSP system.
Program Focus Areas
Collectors, whether for trough, tower (heliostat), linear Fresnel, or dish systems, comprise up to 40% of the total system capital costs for CSP technologies. SETO funds R&D on collector systems to lower cost, reduce optical error, and increase collector lifetime. Current projects are developing high optical accuracy reflectors, reducing collector structure weight and material usage, and developing new manufacturing methodologies.
Receiver subsystems are located at or near the focal point of the Collector in a CSP system. SETO-funded R&D works to increase heat transfer fluid temperatures and thermal efficiency while lowering the cost of the technology. Current projects are developing new receiver designs and novel selective coatings in addition to exploring receiver corrosion and heat transfer fluid stability.
Power blocks convert thermal energy produced by CSP plants into energy that can be used in our homes. SETO-funded R&D works to increase the conversion efficiency, lower the cost of conversion, and eliminate the use of water for cooling. Because CSP facilities are typically located in desert areas where water is a scarce resource, high-efficiency cycles utilizing so-called dry cooling are needed, which may include systems that use topping and bottoming cycles, augmentation, or other hybrid options. Current projects are developing high temperature power cycles like supercritical carbon dioxide, developing solid state power conversion techniques, and investigating hybrid power systems.
Thermal storage is a unique feature of CSP systems, allowing energy collected while the sun is shining to be stored for later use, enabling the CSP plants to handle the intermittencies of solar availability and deliver electricity well into the night. SETO funds R&D on sensible, latent, and thermochemical energy storage to improve heat transfer, lower the cost of storage, and reduce material degradation caused by corrosion. Current projects are engineering heat transfer fluids for high temperature stability and superior thermophysical properties and developing novel storage methods that can meet the technical and cost targets.