Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

CSP technologies use mirrors to concentrate sunlight and generate heat, which can be used to produce electricity or heat industrial processes. CSP plants can offer advantages in terms of energy storage and dispatchability.

Impact on climate action

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) within Utility Scale Solar PV advances climate action by providing reliable, dispatchable renewable energy. By storing thermal energy for electricity generation, CSP systems offer grid stability, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon energy system, mitigating carbon emissions and combating climate change.

Underlying
Technology

  • Concentrating Sunlight: CSP technologies use mirrors to concentrate sunlight and generate heat. This heat can then be used to produce electricity or heat industrial processes.
  • Solar Collectors: CSP systems use different types of solar collectors, such as parabolic troughs, parabolic dishes, and solar power towers, to concentrate sunlight.
  • Heat Transfer Fluids: Heat transfer fluids, such as molten salts or synthetic oils, are used to transfer the heat generated by the solar collectors to a power generation system or industrial process.
  • Thermal Energy Storage: CSP plants can incorporate thermal energy storage systems to store excess heat and generate electricity even when the sun isn’t shining.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Mirror Designs: Innovations in mirror design and materials are improving the efficiency and durability of CSP collectors.
  • High-Temperature Heat Transfer Fluids: Researchers are developing new heat transfer fluids that can operate at higher temperatures, improving the efficiency of CSP plants.
  • Improved Thermal Energy Storage Systems: Advancements in thermal energy storage materials and systems are increasing the storage capacity and efficiency of CSP plants, allowing for longer periods of electricity generation without sunlight.
  • Hybrid CSP-PV Systems: Combining CSP with photovoltaic (PV) technologies can create hybrid systems that offer increased energy generation and improved grid stability.

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Heliogen:
    • Technology Enhancement: Heliogen specializes in concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, utilizing advanced mirrors and solar tracking systems to concentrate sunlight onto a focal point. This concentrated solar energy can be used for various applications, including industrial processes, electricity generation, and thermal storage.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Heliogen stands out for its breakthrough in achieving high-temperature solar thermal processes, such as reaching temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius. This allows for applications in industries traditionally reliant on fossil fuels, such as cement, steel, and petrochemical production, helping to reduce carbon emissions.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Heliogen serves heavy industries seeking to decarbonize their operations, energy utilities looking for clean and reliable electricity generation, and organizations aiming to achieve sustainability goals through renewable energy adoption.
  • BrightSource Energy:
    • Technology Enhancement: BrightSource Energy specializes in concentrating solar power (CSP) technology, utilizing large arrays of mirrors (heliostats) to focus sunlight onto a central receiver tower. The concentrated solar energy heats a fluid to produce steam, which drives turbines to generate electricity.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: BrightSource Energy is known for its innovative solar power tower technology, which provides efficient and scalable solutions for utility-scale solar power generation. Their systems offer high reliability and energy efficiency, making them suitable for large-scale renewable energy projects.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: BrightSource Energy serves utility companies, project developers, and energy investors seeking grid-scale solar power solutions. Their CSP technology is particularly well-suited for large-scale solar power plants in regions with abundant sunlight and suitable land availability.
  • GlassPoint Solar:
    • Technology Enhancement: GlassPoint Solar specializes in solar steam generation technology for industrial applications, such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in the oil and gas industry. Their solar steam generators utilize concentrated solar energy to produce high-pressure steam, which is injected into oil reservoirs to enhance oil production.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: GlassPoint Solar stands out for its focus on providing cost-effective and environmentally sustainable solutions for the oil and gas industry. Their solar steam generators help reduce the carbon footprint of oil extraction operations by replacing traditional steam generation methods, such as natural gas-fired boilers.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: GlassPoint Solar serves oil and gas companies seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower operating costs, and improve the sustainability of their operations. Their solar steam generation technology is deployed in oilfields worldwide, enabling operators to maximize oil recovery while minimizing environmental impact.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT conducts pioneering research on Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), focusing on advanced thermal energy storage systems, innovative receiver designs, and high-temperature materials for enhancing the efficiency, reliability, and dispatchability of CSP plants.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing molten salt, phase change materials (PCMs), and thermochemical storage technologies that enable CSP plants to store thermal energy for extended periods and provide dispatchable electricity on-demand, regardless of solar availability.
    • End-use Applications: Their work has applications in grid stability, renewable integration, and industrial process heat. For example, they’re researching hybrid CSP-gas turbine systems that use concentrated solar heat to preheat the combustion air and improve the overall efficiency of gas-fired power plants, developing advanced receiver tubes and heat exchangers that withstand high temperatures and thermal cycling in CSP applications, and investigating innovative concentrating optics and tracking systems that maximize solar irradiance capture and minimize optical losses in CSP collectors.
  • Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford University conducts innovative research on Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), exploring novel receiver technologies, thermodynamic cycles, and system integration approaches to optimize the performance and cost-effectiveness of CSP technology.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves designing compact, modular CSP systems that can be deployed in diverse geographic locations and scaled to match the energy demand of specific applications, such as industrial process heat, desalination, and district heating.
    • End-use Applications: Their work finds applications in remote communities, resource-constrained regions, and hybrid renewable energy projects. For instance, they’re researching CSP systems with integrated thermal energy storage and hybridization with biomass, geothermal, or waste-to-energy technologies to provide reliable and resilient power generation in off-grid or microgrid settings, developing advanced receiver materials and selective coatings that enhance solar absorption and minimize heat losses in CSP receivers, and investigating the techno-economic feasibility of CSP projects in different market segments and regulatory environments.
  • University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: UC Berkeley is actively involved in research on Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), investigating novel concentrating optics, receiver configurations, and power block technologies to improve the overall performance and competitiveness of CSP systems.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves optimizing the heliostat field layout, tower height, and receiver design of CSP plants for maximum solar-to-electricity conversion efficiency and minimum land footprint, considering factors such as land availability, environmental impact, and land use planning.
    • End-use Applications: Their work has applications in grid-scale electricity generation, industrial steam production, and greenhouse gas mitigation. For example, they’re researching advanced heliostat designs and control algorithms that minimize shading and mirror misalignment errors in large-scale CSP installations, developing receiver materials with high thermal conductivity and low emissivity that enhance heat transfer and reduce thermal losses in CSP receivers, and exploring the integration of CSP with carbon capture and utilization (CCU) technologies to produce low-carbon fuels and chemicals from renewable solar energy and captured CO2 emissions.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Several commercial-scale CSP plants are already in operation around the world, such as the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the United States and the Noor Solar Complex in Morocco.