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Heliostat Consortium

HelioCon—the Heliostat Consortium for Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power—is a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)-led consortium focused on improving component performance for the concentrating solar-thermal (CST) power industry.  It supports research, development, validation, commercialization, and deployment of low-cost and high-performance heliostats with optimized operations and maintenance for concentrating solar power (CSP) and CST applications.

The consortium is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) through the Fiscal Year 22-24 Lab Call.

Heliostats stand in front of a solar tower at the Ivanpah concentrated solar power plant in Nipton, California. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Heliostats stand in front of a solar tower at the Ivanpah concentrated solar power plant in Nipton, California. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

On September 27, 2022, DOE announced the release of the Roadmap to Advance Heliostat Technologies for Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power, developed by NREL and Sandia National Laboratories to guide heliostat research and deployment. Along with this roadmap, NREL released a $3 million request for proposals (RFP) for research projects to work with them on advancing heliostat technology, expanding U.S. expertise in heliostats, and increasing the number of researchers in this field. The consortium announced the selected projects on June 1, 2023.

A heliostat is a device that continually tilts a mirror or multiple mirror facets to track the sun’s movement in order to reflect sunlight toward a predetermined target—such as a receiver sitting on top of a solar tower.

Heliostats are a critical component of CSP and CST power tower technologies. A utility-scale heliostat field (100 MWe, for example) may include more than 10,000 heliostats. They represent 30%–50% of the cost of system construction and are a primary driver of operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. Improvements to heliostat cost, performance, and reliability are necessary to achieve the DOE 2030 solar cost targets of 5¢/kWh for CSP technology.

Collaboration with Industry

Within HelioCon, NREL, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute work closely with DOE and CSP developers, component suppliers, utilities, and international experts to achieve SETO objectives for U.S.-manufactured heliostat cost, performance, and reliability.

To advance U.S. heliostat technologies, HelioCon engages subject-matter experts and general stakeholders for direct project-level collaboration, external consulting, and mission-specific panels or workshops. HelioCon will expand its membership to a broader community of critical stakeholders by building a board of advisors and issuing multiple rounds of requests for proposals for new projects and performers. HelioCon also serves as a hub to integrate all DOE-funded projects that directly advance heliostat technologies.

Consortium Objectives

HelioCon objectives include the following:

  • Develop strategic core capabilities and infrastructure to support high-performance heliostat manufacturing, validation, and optimization and facilitate industry’s ability to design, manufacture, install, and operate central receiver heliostat fields with higher technical and economic performance
  • Ensure that these capabilities are readily available to industry, meeting their needs
  • Fund research on new technologies with significant potential to improve heliostat field economic performance
  • Form U.S. centers of excellence focused on heliostat technology to restore U.S. leadership in heliostat research, development, and validation
  • Promote workforce development through encouraging student internships and postdoctoral positions, the formation of a HelioCon early career scientist group to promote networking and highlight existing training and educational programs in heliostat design, production, and operation.


Northeastern University

Project Name: An Educational Program on Concentrating Solar Power and Heliostats for Power Generation and Industrial Process
Location: Boston, MA
Award Amount: $250,000
Project Description: This project by Northeastern University will develop an educational program focused on concentrating solar power (CSP) and heliostats for power generation and industrial processes. It will be developed during the two-year project and then become part of the Northeastern curriculum for undergraduate and graduate engineering students.


Project Name: Robotic-Assisted Facet Installation (RA-FI)
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Award Amount: $360,000
Project Description: Sarcos Technology and Robotics Corp., in collaboration with Heliogen, will investigate the feasibility of a novel mobile robotic system capable of supporting the installation of mirror facets onto a heliostat. The primary goal of this proposed effort is to refine the understanding of the challenges related to mirror facet installation to analytically determine the feasibility to address this task robotically from the vantage point of both technical and business considerations.

Solar Dynamics

Project Name: Demonstration of a Heliostat Solar Field Wireless Control System
Location: Broomfield, CO
Award Amount: $330,000
Project Description: Solar Dynamics LLC, with partners Remcom and Vanteon Corporation, will carry out a project aimed at demonstrating the reliable operation of a wireless heliostat solar field control system using commercially available products and developing analytical tools to de-risk the large-scale deployment of the wireless technology to solar fields with tens of thousands of heliostats. In parallel, a wireless radio frequency computer simulation of the demonstration system will be developed. The overall project goal is to prove that the wireless technology is fully capable of replacing traditional wired networks with minimal compromises.

Solar Dynamics

Project Name: SunRing: Advanced Manufacturing and Field Deployment
Location: Broomfield, CO
Award Amount: $660,000
Project Description: This project by Solar Dynamics LLC and partners will develop processes to maximize cost-competitiveness, performance, and reliability of Solar Dynamics’ existing SunRing heliostat design. The project will implement off-site preassembly and kitting for the heliostat subassemblies, conceptually develop and prototype an automated manufacturing cell that is transportable and re-deployable for future projects, develop a comprehensive installation and commissioning schedule, and compile a holistic cost model of the SunRing to develop a business case and aid in site and design decision-making.


Project Name: Digital Twin and Industry 4.0 in Support of Heliostat Technology Advancement
Houston, TX
Award Amount: $500,000
Project Description: The Tietronix project will use a model-based systems engineering approach to improve the design, analysis, and verification of heliostats and overall solar fields. The project will also use digital twin technology during the heliostat manufacturing process, conducting thorough testing before achieving full functionality. This approach ensures quality and enables optimization of solar field operations by providing comprehensive insights into heliostat performance. The project will demonstrate the potential of machine learning algorithms, virtual-reality training, and augmented-reality techniques in reducing operational costs and enhancing overall performance. 

University of Arizona

Project Name: Twisting Heliostats With Closed Loop Tracking
Location: Tucson, AZ
Award Amount: $400,000
Project Description: This project will design, manufacture, and test a new type of heliostat and study its application for high-concentration CSP. The University of Arizona will integrate a reflector (developed from a DOE Small Innovative Projects in Solar award) with a high-accuracy mount and tracking camera to demonstrate an accurately focused and centered image of the solar disc. This will be maintained automatically throughout the day by mechanically coupled twisting of the reflector. Even when using perfectly focused facets, distortions of the reflected image on the receiver are introduced due to the non-normal incidence between the heliostat and the receiver. The dynamic focusing of the mirror facet can result in a reflected image that approaches the theoretical limit, potentially leading to higher operating temperatures for concentrated solar power (CSP) and industrial process heat applications.

University of New Mexico

Project Name: HELIOCOMM: A Resilient Wireless Heliostats Communication System
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Award Amount: $450,000
Project Description: This components-and-controls project by the University of New Mexico will model a resilient wireless communication system based on the principles of integrated access and backhaul (IAB) technology, entropy-based routing, dynamic spectrum management, and interference mitigation. These technical advances will enable an industry pathway to low-cost wirelessly controlled heliostat fields through: 1) Photovoltaic powered controls and communications through reduced energy usage and 2) safety and resilience through faster (milliseconds) communication and reduced risk of communication breakdowns or losses.

Additional Information