Digitalization and Process Optimization in Solar Thermal

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Digitalization and process optimization in solar thermal involve using digital technologies and data analytics to improve the efficiency, performance, and reliability of solar thermal systems. This approach leverages data-driven insights to optimize system design, operation, and maintenance, leading to increased energy generation and reduced costs.

Impact on climate action

Digitalization and Process Optimization in Solar Thermal elevate climate action by enhancing energy efficiency and system performance. By leveraging data analytics and automation, this innovation maximizes solar thermal energy generation, reduces reliance on fossil fuels, and accelerates the transition to renewable energy, mitigating carbon emissions and combating climate change.


  • Sensors and Data Acquisition: Solar thermal systems are equipped with sensors that collect data on various parameters, such as temperature, pressure, flow rate, and solar irradiance. This data is essential for monitoring and optimizing system performance.
  • Data Analytics and AI: Data analytics and AI algorithms are used to analyze sensor data, identify performance trends, detect potential faults, and provide optimization recommendations.
  • Cloud-Based Platforms: Cloud-based platforms provide the infrastructure and computing power needed to store, analyze, and visualize large amounts of solar thermal system data.
  • Digital Twins: Digital twins are virtual representations of physical solar thermal systems that can be used to simulate and optimize system performance in real-time.
  • Remote Monitoring and Control: Digitalization enables remote monitoring and control of solar thermal systems, allowing operators to adjust system parameters and troubleshoot issues from anywhere.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • AI-Powered Performance Optimization: Advanced AI algorithms are being developed to optimize solar thermal system performance in real-time, taking into account factors such as weather conditions, energy demand, and system parameters.
  • Predictive Maintenance: AI and data analytics can be used to predict potential equipment failures, allowing for proactive maintenance and reducing downtime.
  • Automated Fault Detection and Diagnostics: Smart monitoring systems can automatically detect and diagnose faults in solar thermal systems, enabling faster troubleshooting and repairs.
  • Digital Twin-Based Optimization: Digital twins of solar thermal systems can be used to simulate and optimize system design, operation, and maintenance strategies.
  • Integration with Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS): Solar thermal systems can be integrated with BEMS to optimize energy usage and maximize the benefits of solar thermal energy in buildings.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Sensor Integration and Data Acquisition for Solar Thermal
  • AI-Powered Performance Optimization for Solar Thermal
  • Predictive Maintenance Solutions for Solar Thermal
  • Automated Fault Detection and Diagnostics for Solar Thermal
  • Cloud-Based Data Analytics Platforms for Solar Thermal
  • Remote Monitoring and Control Systems for Solar Thermal
  • Optimization of Solar Thermal Collectors
  • Utilization of AI in Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Technology

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Heliogen:
    • Technology Enhancement: Heliogen focuses on advancing concentrated solar power (CSP) technology through digitalization and process optimization. Their systems use mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a receiver, generating high temperatures for industrial processes, such as mineral refining and hydrogen production. Heliogen employs advanced control algorithms, sensors, and data analytics to optimize solar tracking, mirror alignment, and heat management, enhancing system efficiency and reliability.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Heliogen stands out for its breakthrough achievements in solar concentration technology, particularly in achieving ultra-high temperatures using advanced control systems. By digitalizing and optimizing key aspects of CSP systems, Heliogen aims to revolutionize industrial heat generation and decarbonize high-temperature processes, such as cement production and steelmaking.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Heliogen serves industries that require high-temperature heat for manufacturing processes, including cement, steel, petrochemicals, and mining. Their digitalized CSP solutions offer a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, enabling industrial customers to reduce emissions and meet sustainability targets.
  • BrightSource Energy:
    • Technology Enhancement: BrightSource Energy specializes in concentrating solar power (CSP) technology for utility-scale electricity generation. Their systems use mirrors or heliostats to focus sunlight onto a central receiver, where heat is captured and used to produce steam for power generation. BrightSource Energy integrates digital control systems, predictive analytics, and cloud-based monitoring platforms to optimize solar flux, thermal efficiency, and power output, maximizing the performance of CSP plants.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: BrightSource Energy is known for its expertise in large-scale CSP projects and its focus on digitalization to improve plant performance and reliability. By leveraging advanced control and monitoring technologies, they enhance the competitiveness and bankability of CSP plants, making them attractive options for utility-scale renewable energy deployment.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: BrightSource Energy primarily serves utility companies, independent power producers (IPPs), and energy developers seeking clean and dispatchable solar power solutions. Their CSP plants provide grid stability, energy diversity, and renewable energy integration, supporting decarbonization efforts in regions with high solar irradiance.
  • GlassPoint Solar:
    • Technology Enhancement: GlassPoint Solar specializes in solar steam generation for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) applications in the oil and gas industry. Their enclosed trough CSP systems use mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a tube containing water or steam, generating high-temperature steam for injecting into oil wells to enhance production. GlassPoint Solar incorporates digitalization and automation technologies to optimize solar steam generation, improve system performance, and reduce operating costs for EOR projects.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: GlassPoint Solar stands out for its innovative approach to using CSP technology in the oil and gas sector, where solar steam can displace natural gas used for EOR, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and operating expenses. Their digitalized CSP systems offer a sustainable and cost-effective solution for oilfield operators seeking to improve energy efficiency and environmental performance.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: GlassPoint Solar primarily serves oil and gas companies operating in regions with abundant sunlight and mature oil fields suitable for EOR operations. Their solar steam solutions enable oilfield operators to reduce carbon intensity, lower fuel costs, and extend the life of oil reserves while minimizing environmental impact.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL):
    • Research Focus: NREL is a leading research institution in the field of solar energy, including solar thermal technologies. Their research on Digitalization and Process Optimization in Solar Thermal focuses on leveraging digital tools, control systems, and advanced analytics to enhance the efficiency, reliability, and performance of solar thermal systems.
    • Uniqueness: NREL’s research involves developing digital twins, simulation models, and predictive analytics algorithms to simulate and optimize the operation of solar thermal power plants, concentrating solar collectors, and thermal energy storage systems. They also explore advanced control strategies, sensor technologies, and data-driven decision-making approaches to maximize energy capture, minimize losses, and improve system economics.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in utility-scale solar thermal power generation, industrial process heat, and district heating systems. By digitalizing and optimizing solar thermal processes, NREL’s research contributes to reducing fossil fuel consumption, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and enhancing energy resilience in various sectors.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT conducts innovative research on Digitalization and Process Optimization in Solar Thermal, leveraging its expertise in materials science, thermodynamics, and control engineering to develop advanced technologies for solar heating, cooling, and power generation.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves exploring novel materials, coatings, and surface treatments for improving solar absorbers, heat exchangers, and thermal energy storage materials in solar thermal systems. They also develop digital control algorithms, optimization algorithms, and real-time monitoring systems to enable autonomous operation, fault detection, and performance optimization of solar thermal components and subsystems.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in residential, commercial, and industrial settings, including solar water heating, space heating, air conditioning, and industrial process heat. By advancing digitalization and process optimization in solar thermal technologies, MIT’s research supports the transition to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable development.
  • Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford University is engaged in cutting-edge research on Digitalization and Process Optimization in Solar Thermal, leveraging its expertise in control theory, optimization algorithms, and renewable energy systems to develop innovative solutions for enhancing the performance and reliability of solar thermal technologies.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing data-driven models, machine learning algorithms, and optimization techniques for predicting solar irradiance, thermal loads, and system behavior in solar thermal applications. They also investigate novel heat transfer fluids, thermal storage materials, and collector designs to improve energy capture, storage, and conversion efficiency in solar thermal systems.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, solar desalination, and solar-driven industrial processes. By integrating digitalization and process optimization techniques into solar thermal systems, Stanford’s research enables cost-effective and sustainable deployment of solar energy solutions for power generation, heating, and cooling applications.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Digitalization and process optimization technologies are being implemented in solar thermal systems around the world, particularly in large-scale CSP plants and commercial solar thermal installations. These technologies are helping to improve system performance, reduce costs, and enhance reliability.