Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)

Concentrated solar power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors to focus a large area of sunlight onto a small area. Electrical power is produced when the concentrated light is directed onto photovoltaic surfaces or used to heat a transfer fluid for a conventional power plant.

The History of CSP

Concentrated sunlight has been used to perform useful tasks from the time of ancient China. A legend claims that Archimedes used a “burning glass” to concentrate sunlight on the invading Roman fleet and repel them from Syracuse. In 1973 a Greek scientist, Dr. Ioannis Sakkas, curious about whether Archimedes could really have destroyed the Roman fleet in 212 BC lined up nearly 60 Greek sailors, each holding an oblong mirror tipped to catch the Sun’s rays and direct them at a tar-covered plywood silhouette 160 feet away. The ship caught fire after a few minutes; however, historians continue to doubt the Archimedes story.

In 1866, Auguste Mouchout used a parabolic trough to produce steam for the first solar steam engine. The first patent for a Solar Collector was obtained by the Italian Alessandro Battaglia in Genoa, Italy, in 1886. Over the following years, inventors such as John Ericsson and Frank Shuman developed concentrating solar-powered devices for irrigation, refrigeration, and locomotion. In 1913 Shuman finished a 55HP parabolic solar thermal energy station in Meadi, Egypt for irrigation.

Another Genoese, Professor Giovanni Francia (1911–1980), designed and built the first solar concentrated plant which entered in operation in Sant’Ilario, near Genoa, Italy in 1968. This plant had the architecture of today’s solar concentrated plants with a solar receiver in the center of a field of solar collectors. The plant was able to produce 1MW with superheated steam at 100 bar and 500 degrees celsius.[6] The 10MW Solar One power tower was developed in Southern California in 1981 but the parabolic trough technology of the nearby Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS), begun in 1984, was more workable. The 354MW SEGS is still the largest solar power plant in the world.

CSP technology falls into trypically one of two types.

1) – Concentrated Solar Thermal

2)- Concentrated Photovoltaics

Many power plants today use fossil fuels as a heat source to boil water. The steam from the boiling water spins a large turbine, which drives a generator to produce electricity. However, a new generation of power plants with concentrating solar power systems uses the sun as a heat source. The three main types of concentrating solar power systems are: linear concentrator, dish/engine, and power tower systems.

Linear concentrator systems collect the sun’s energy using long rectangular, curved (U-shaped) mirrors. The mirrors are tilted toward the sun, focusing sunlight on tubes (or receivers) that run the length of the mirrors. The reflected sunlight heats a fluid flowing through the tubes. The hot fluid then is used to boil water in a conventional steam-turbine generator to produce electricity. There are two major types of linear concentrator systems: parabolic trough systems, where receiver tubes are positioned along the focal line of each parabolic mirror; and linear Fresnel reflector systems, where one receiver tube is positioned above several mirrors to allow the mirrors greater mobility in tracking the sun.

A dish/engine system uses a mirrored dish similar to a very large satellite dish. The dish-shaped surface directs and concentrates sunlight onto a thermal receiver, which absorbs and collects the heat and transfers it to the engine generator. The most common type of heat engine used today in dish/engine systems is the Stirling engine. This system uses the fluid heated by the receiver to move pistons and create mechanical power. The mechanical power is then used to run a generator or alternator to produce electricity.

A power tower system uses a large field of flat, sun-tracking mirrors known as heliostats to focus and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on the top of a tower. A heat-transfer fluid heated in the receiver is used to generate steam, which, in turn, is used in a conventional turbine generator to produce electricity. Some power towers use water/steam as the heat-transfer fluid. Other advanced designs are experimenting with molten nitrate salt because of its superior heat-transfer and energy-storage capabilities. The energy-storage capability, or thermal storage, allows the system to continue to dispatch electricity during cloudy weather or at night.

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