Concentrating Solar Power

mirrors in a concentrating solar power array
Mirrors focus the sun’s rays onto a nearby tower.
(cc) Alexander Lang

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced plans to provide up to $52.5 million to research, develop, and demonstrate Concentrating Solar Power systems capable of providing low-cost electrical power both day and night. Today’s announcement underscores the Obama Administration’s commitment to creating jobs and saving money, making electricity generated from solar energy competitive with conventional grid electricity.

“Low-cost renewable energy generation that includes energy storage is one key to our efforts to diversify domestic energy sources and create new jobs,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said. “By investing in the development of low-cost solar technologies we can pave the way toward faster deployment of carbon-free, large-scale energy sources.”

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technologies use lenses or mirrors to focus the sun’s energy from a large area onto a small area. The concentrated light may then be used to activate a photovoltaic cell or, in the case of systems eligible under this DOE program, to generate heat which then drives an engine or turbine to produce electrical power. CSP plants can include low-cost energy storage, which allows them to provide electricity even when the sun is not shining. CSP technologies currently used in utility-scale power plants typically do not have the capability or capacity for storage, operating only during daytime hours. These projects will seek to improve technology and novel system designs to extend operation to an average of about 18 hours per day, a level of production that would make it possible for a CSP plant to displace a traditional coal power plant.

The competitive funding opportunity involves two areas:

  • Research and development of concepts and components for a CSP system that enables a plant to produce low-cost electricity at least 18 hours of the day.
  • Evaluation of the feasibility and development of a prototype complete CSP system capable of operating at least 18 hours per day while generating low-cost power.

Projects are based upon continuing annual appropriations. DOE anticipates making up to 13 project awards totaling up to $52.5 million.

Read Large-Scale Solar Power Systems: Construction and Economics from Amazon.

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