Concentrated Solar Power: The Next Big Power Source

Amber Plante for Zondits, June 30, 2015. Image credit: 44833

Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) is often seen as the smaller, less affordable option to solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, due in part to the sudden affordability of the latter. However, experts are now hawking CSP as the next big power source because of its ability to store the solar power long after the sun has set, solving a common problem of solar power. The International Energy Agency even forecasts that CSP will generate 11% of global electricity by 2050 and that joining it with PV could create the “largest source of electricity worldwide before 2050.”

Through the use of parabolic mirrors, the solar power in CSP systems is transferred into heat, “which can be stored 20 to 100 times more cheaply than electricity — and with far greater efficiency,” according to the article below.

This storage issue could be flipped, however, if the cost of batteries were to drop. Right now, it is not clear which technology will win out, but the future of solar is looking bright.


Why You Should Be Paying Attention To The ‘Other’ Form Of Solar Power

Climate Progress, June 10, 2015

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have seen explosive growth because of their stunning 99 percent price drop in the past quarter century. As a result, the other form of solar power — concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) — is a small fraction of the solar market.

But the International Energy Agency (IEA) says CSP has a very bright future too because it enables cheap, efficient storage, which allows CSP plants to provide electricity long after the sun has set. According to the IEA’s 2014 CSP Technology Roadmap, 11 percent of global electricity will be generated by concentrating solar thermal power in 2050. In this post, I review the basics of CSP and look at how its recent resurgence portends a big future.

Parabolic TroughCSP is the use of mirrors to focus sunlight to heat a fluid that runs an engine to make electricity. One of the basic CSP designs used today is the power tower (above photo of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project), which uses many mirrors moving in two dimensions to focus sunlight on a central tower that holds the engine. Another key design is the parabolic trough, which uses mirrors to focus the light on a long tube filled with a heat-storing fluid (right).

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