The concentrating solar power (CSP) subprogram funds systems analysis within the industry, national laboratories, and universities to aide in the achievement of the technical and economic targets for the components of the different system configurations of CSP; namely parabolic trough, linear Fresnel, power tower, and dish engine. These analyses evaluate and validate the cost, performance, and durability of CSP technologies in order to promote deployment of CSP systems in low-cost configurations that are easy to integrate into the electric grid, which is a key part of continuing to drive down costs for all CSP systems. Additionally, innovative, long-term concepts are evaluated to provide guidance to research and development efforts within the program. Finally, CSP systems analysis also supports development and integration of advanced utility-scale solar financial models into the System Advisor Model (SAM).
CSP is a unique form of solar energy because it can serve as a baseload power source, just like a coal or natural gas combined-cycle power plant, generating electricity on a 24-hour cycle. CSP can also serve as a flexible source of electricity by providing electricity when needed; it can accompany photovoltaic or wind power, just like a natural gas simple-cycle power plant, to assist in power generation when the sun isn’t shining or when winds are calm. CSP plants can provide this service because they convert the sun’s rays into thermal energy, allowing for it to be easily and inexpensively stored for later use. This makes it possible for solar energy to power our lives whenever that power may be needed. The CSP subprogram has funded analysis to evaluate the value of this unique capability.
Program Focus Areas
SETO funds research that will shape the future of CSP plants across both the country and the world. In order to keep CSP as a financially viable energy source, new technology will need to enable mass-manufacturing of CSP system components, which will increase the speed and reduce the cost of plant construction and enable smaller, more efficient plants. Technology developments will also continue to produce power blocks and thermal energy storage systems that reduce energy prices and increase CSP plant efficiency. As CSP plants become cheaper to construct, operate, and maintain, they will be able to access more diverse forms of financing that enable favorable financing rates, promoting more CSP power generation. The systems analysis task evaluates the impact CSP component technology improvements have on the overall cost of CSP technology.
Additionally, CSP will play an increasingly important role in hybrid power systems. CSP plants can work alongside fossil-fuel power plants, allowing them to run cleaner and operate at the same cost or even cheaper. In addition to being paired with PV technology and wind turbines, CSP is also being used to power water desalination plants, helping to generate clean drinking water in areas where it is sparse. How CSP integrates with these various technologies is another topic of research under the systems analysis portfolio.
Learn more about CSP plants in operation around the world.
- NREL: Simulating the Value of Concentrating Solar Power with Thermal Energy Storage in a Production Cost Model
- NREL: The Potential Role of Concentrating Solar Power in Enabling High Renewables Scenarios in the United States
- NREL: Enabling Greater Penetration of Solar Power via the Use of CSP with Thermal Energy Storage