Improving Concentrating Solar Power Plants Efficiency & Cost

Concentrating solar power uses the sun’s rays to create thermal energy that is used to produce electricity, then store it for use when it’s needed. Fields of computer controlled mirrors work to focus the sun’s rays on a single focal point, heating up a fluid that can then run a turbine connected to an electric generator.

That fluid can be stored or dispatched when and where it is needed. The ability to be able to store the energy is one of the main drivers in pursuing concentrated solar thermal technology. Energy storage is seen to be the key to further adoption of variable renewable energy sources such as the wind and the sun. If we are ever to hope to be able to completely move away from fossils fuels and escape the climate change trap that have put ourselves in, energy storage must be solved.

Different Types of Concentrating Solar Power Technology ( So far…)

There are three main types of concentrating solar power technologies (as far as thermal in concerned ) that have been developed over the last 30 years. * There is also concentrating solar pv

Concentrating solar power parabolic systems

Concentrating solar power parabolic systems


There are parabolic solar collectors which concentrated the sun along a horizontal axis of a parabolic trough.

Parabolic solar thermal electric

Parabolic solar thermal electric – concentrated the power of the sun as heat and by using turbines produces clean electricity – one type of concentrating solar power

There is the solar dish that concentrates the sun’s rays to a single point in a hemispheric ( dish ) reflector.

A concentrating solar power dish

A concentrating solar power dish

Lastly there is the solar tower which comes in various designs. This new research is around the csp tower system.

Sandia Laboratory is pioneering work in concentrating solar power, with falling particle heat transfer ( instead of a liquid working fluid) that is a pathway to storing higher quality ( temperature ) heat. Higher temperatures means higher efficiencies, which means lower costs.

Using conventional concentrating solar power thermal receivers, storing the energy in molten salt allows for electricity generation year round and 24 hours a day. This technology right now has a huge cost disadvantage compared to solar photo-voltaic and wind turbines. Sandia researchers are developing technologies to raise the overall efficiency and therefore make it more cost effective.

A conventional parabolic concentrating solar power plant with molten salt heat storage

A conventional parabolic concentrating solar power plant with molten salt heat storage

One of these is the ceramic based particles that are replacing the working fluids used today.

Dropping the particles through a beam of concentrated sunlight allows for very efficient transfer of heat. Testing on the prototype technology has yielded temperature of 900 degrees C.

Sandia is excited about the possibilities of concentrating solar power ( CSP ) technology for energy storage and clean electricity generation.

A SunShot Initiative project with Sandia National Laboratories is perfecting new technology that allows heat to be stored at higher temperatures, improving the efficiency of concentrating solar power plants and allowing utilities to provide customers with clean energy even after the sun has set

A SunShot Initiative project with Sandia National Laboratories is perfecting new technology that allows heat to be stored at higher temperatures, improving the efficiency of concentrating solar power plants and allowing utilities to provide customers with clean energy even after the sun has set

Learn more about SunShot’s 2030 goals at energy.gov/sunshot2030. Here is there video about this new research into concentrating solar power generation tech.

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