Integration of Solar Thermal with Smart Grids

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research


What it is

The integration of solar thermal with smart grids involves connecting solar thermal systems to smart grids, enabling efficient and optimized utilization of solar thermal energy within the broader energy system. This integration can enhance grid stability, improve energy efficiency, and promote the use of renewable energy for heating and cooling applications.

Impact on climate action

Integration of Solar Thermal with Smart Grids in Solar Thermal enhances climate action by optimizing renewable energy utilization. By aligning solar thermal energy production with grid demand through smart grid technologies, this innovation increases efficiency, reduces reliance on fossil fuels, and accelerates the transition to a low-carbon energy system, mitigating climate change.

Underlying
Technology

  • Smart Grid Technologies: Smart grids utilize advanced sensors, communication networks, and data analytics to optimize grid management and facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources like solar thermal.
  • Solar Thermal Systems: Solar thermal systems capture sunlight and convert it into heat, which can be used for various applications, such as water heating, space heating, and industrial process heat.
  • Thermal Energy Storage: Thermal energy storage systems can store excess solar heat for later use, providing a more consistent and reliable heat supply and enabling demand response capabilities.
  • Demand Response: Smart grids enable demand response programs, where solar thermal systems can adjust their operation based on grid conditions and electricity prices. For example, during periods of high electricity demand, solar thermal systems with thermal storage can reduce their reliance on the grid by using stored heat.
  • Data Analytics and AI: Data analytics and AI algorithms can be used to predict solar thermal energy production, forecast heat demand, and optimize grid operations.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Solar Thermal System Controllers: Innovations in control systems and software are enabling solar thermal systems to respond more dynamically to grid signals and participate in demand response programs.
  • Solar Thermal-Integrated Smart Grid Platforms: Startups and researchers are developing integrated platforms that optimize the interaction between solar thermal systems and smart grids, improving efficiency and grid stability.
  • Predictive Analytics for Solar Thermal Energy Production: AI and data analytics can be used to predict solar thermal energy production based on factors such as weather conditions and system performance, enabling better grid planning and management.
  • Thermal Energy Storage Integration: Advancements in thermal energy storage technologies, such as molten salt storage and phase change materials, are improving the storage capacity and efficiency of solar thermal systems, enhancing their ability to provide grid services and participate in demand response programs.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Dynamic Grid-Responsive Solar Thermal Systems
  • Grid-Optimized Solar Thermal Controllers
  • Integrated Solar Thermal Demand Response
  • Next-Gen Thermal Energy Storage Solutions
  • Solar Thermal Grid Services Platform
  • Smart Grid-Enabled Solar Thermal Communities
  • Solar Thermal Microgrids
  • Grid-Interactive Solar Thermal Technology
  • Solar Thermal Heat Forecasting Models
  • Optimal Solar Thermal Grid Integration
  • Solar Thermal Demand-Side Management
  • Smart Grid-Integrated Solar Thermal Networks

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 and generate high-temperature heat for industrial processes and power generation. Their innovative approach enables the integration of solar thermal energy with smart grids, allowing for the efficient production of renewable electricity and heat.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Heliogen stands out for its breakthrough in concentrating solar power technology, achieving record-high temperatures and energy efficiency levels. By integrating solar thermal energy with smart grids, they offer a scalable and dispatchable renewable energy solution that can support grid stability and reliability while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Heliogen serves industries with high-temperature heat requirements, such as cement, steel, and chemical manufacturing, as well as utility-scale power generation projects. Their solar thermal systems can be integrated with smart grids to provide clean and cost-effective energy solutions for industrial and utility customers.
  • Sunnova Energy International:
    • Technology Enhancement: Sunnova Energy International is a leading residential solar and energy storage service provider, offering solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and battery storage solutions for homeowners. Their integrated approach to solar energy includes smart grid functionalities that enable homeowners to optimize energy production, storage, and consumption, leveraging grid connectivity and intelligent energy management systems.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Sunnova stands out for its focus on residential solar and energy storage solutions with built-in smart grid capabilities. By integrating solar PV systems with smart grids, they empower homeowners to maximize energy savings, enhance grid stability, and contribute to the transition to renewable energy.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Sunnova serves residential customers seeking solar energy solutions with smart grid functionalities. Their integrated solar-plus-storage systems enable homeowners to generate and manage their electricity efficiently, reducing dependence on the grid and lowering energy costs.
  • TenneT:
    • Technology Enhancement: TenneT is a leading transmission system operator (TSO) in Europe, responsible for managing and operating high-voltage electricity transmission grids. They play a crucial role in integrating renewable energy sources, including solar, into the grid, ensuring grid stability, reliability, and security of supply. TenneT utilizes smart grid technologies to optimize grid operations and facilitate the integration of variable renewable energy resources.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: TenneT stands out for its expertise in grid management and its commitment to facilitating the transition to a renewable energy future. By integrating solar thermal energy with smart grids, they enable the efficient utilization of solar resources and the integration of renewable energy into the electricity grid.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: TenneT serves electricity consumers, renewable energy generators, and grid operators across Europe. Their smart grid solutions support the integration of solar thermal energy and other renewable energy sources into the grid, ensuring reliable and sustainable electricity supply for end-users.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL):
    • Research Focus: NREL is at the forefront of research on integrating solar thermal technologies with smart grids, focusing on enhancing the flexibility, reliability, and efficiency of solar thermal systems through grid integration and advanced control strategies.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing modeling tools, simulation platforms, and optimization algorithms to assess the dynamic interactions between solar thermal power plants, energy storage systems, and grid infrastructure. They also investigate strategies for demand response, load balancing, and grid stabilization to maximize the value of solar thermal generation and support grid decarbonization efforts.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, district heating networks, and industrial process heat applications. By integrating solar thermal with smart grids, NREL’s research enables better alignment between renewable energy supply and electricity demand, enhances grid resilience, and facilitates the integration of variable renewable resources into the energy system.
  • Technical University of Munich (TUM):
    • Research Focus: TUM conducts innovative research on the integration of solar thermal technologies with smart grids, leveraging its expertise in energy systems engineering, control theory, and renewable energy integration to develop advanced solutions for grid-connected solar thermal systems.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the development of advanced control algorithms, predictive models, and optimization techniques for managing the operation of solar thermal collectors, thermal energy storage systems, and grid-connected heat pumps. They also explore the synergies between solar thermal generation, electricity production, and heat utilization to maximize system efficiency and grid compatibility.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in district heating networks, industrial process heat, and building energy systems. By integrating solar thermal with smart grids, TUM’s research enables more efficient and flexible use of renewable heat resources, reduces reliance on fossil fuels, and supports the transition to a sustainable and decentralized energy system.
  • Delft University of Technology (TU Delft):
    • Research Focus: TU Delft is engaged in cutting-edge research on the integration of solar thermal technologies with smart grids, leveraging its expertise in renewable energy systems, control engineering, and grid optimization to develop innovative solutions for enhancing the performance and resilience of solar thermal systems.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing integrated energy management systems, control strategies, and decision support tools for optimizing the operation of solar thermal collectors, thermal energy storage, and heat distribution networks in conjunction with smart grid technologies. They also investigate the potential synergies between solar thermal generation, electric vehicle charging, and grid services to enhance overall system flexibility and value.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in urban energy systems, industrial parks, and rural communities. By integrating solar thermal with smart grids, TU Delft’s research contributes to enhancing energy security, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and promoting the transition to a sustainable and resilient energy infrastructure.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

The integration of solar thermal with smart grids is being implemented in various regions around the world, particularly in Europe, where district heating and cooling systems are being integrated with renewable energy sources and smart grid technologies.