New Labs to Concentrate on Solar Thermal Energy
As the market for clean solar power rapidly expands, NREL researchers are investigating advanced concepts in concentrating solar power (CSP) with $5.4 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding awarded from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The new work includes establishing two new facilities and extensive improvements to an existing third facility on the NREL’s research campus. It also will include field testing of new CSP technologies at the Solar Technology Acceleration Center (SolarTAC), a new 76-acre solar test site.
CSP uses mirrors to reflect sunlight onto receivers. Unlike photovoltaic cells that directly convert sunlight into electricity, this method uses the sun’s heat to drive a generator to produce electricity.
Key to CSP’s commercial success is developing an economical, effective energy storage capability that will hold the sun’s heat for use to generate clean electricity at periods of peak power demand, or during cloudy weather or at night.
NREL is studying new thermal storage materials and technologies that will allow CSP plants to work at higher temperatures and greater efficiencies, while lowering the cost of energy produced by these systems.
DOE’s goal is to make CSP cost-competitive by 2015 and provide a sizeable amount of clean energy to the grid by 2020.
Rapid growth expected
CSP plants are generating about 600 megawatts of electricity today, mostly in the United States and Spain. An additional 1,000 megawatts are under construction by utilities in sunny regions such as the desert Southwest.
In the U.S., an additional 8 gigawatts of CSP are being planned. Internationally, a similar level of CPS development is underway.
NREL maintains an online database of CSP projects and technologies with SolarPACES, an international cooperative organization, to track CPS development worldwide.
NREL and Sandia National Laboratories are funded by DOE to develop CSP technologies.
“The CSP industry is growing rapidly and needs DOE’s help to evaluate technologies that will make projects more financeable,” said CSP program manager Mark Mehos.
“The industry needs performance and durability data in everything from materials to systems,” he said. “And on the R&D side, these new facilities will help us develop the next generation of materials and systems.”
Two of the NREL facilities — the Advanced Thermal Storage Process and Components Integration Laboratory and the Optical Components Characterization Laboratory — will be located in NREL’s new Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), which is scheduled to be completed in late 2011.
Department of Energy funding will be used in four important areas: