Concentrating solar power (CSP) technology is on the cusp of changes that are likely to drive the pace of deployments to new heights. Already able to produce utility-scale amounts of renewable electricity cost-effectively, scientists and engineers have been focusing on developing new, more efficient and cheaper thermal energy storage systems and integrating them into CSP plants. That goal now appears within reach.
Spanish sustainable energy multinational Abengoa commissioned the first CSP facility with a grid-scale, molten-salts energy storage system in the U.S. last October. The company upped the ante last week, announcing that Chile’s environmental regulator had approved the planned 110-megawatt (MW) Cerro Dominador, a project which, if successfully completed, will be the first utility-scale CSP facility capable of supplying electricity to the grid 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Looking to keep the advances coming and momentum going, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on May 21 announced it will provide $10 million in research-and-development (R&D) funding for six new CSP projects. Each of these projects aim to develop cheaper and more efficient thermochemical energy storage systems that could boost the performance and lower the costs of utility-scale CSP further.
Six New CSP-thermal energy storage R&D projects
For the six new DOE-funded R&D projects, teams from universities, national laboratories and research institutes will work together with industry partners to design and test new thermochemical energy storage processes and systems “which could store the sun’s energy at high densities and temperatures in the form of chemical bonds,” the DOE explains.
“The chemical compounds used to store the chemical energy are later broken down to release energy when needed.” Success, DOE adds, would help “the industry step closer to meeting the SunShot Initiative’s technical and cost targets for CSP and moving the U.S. toward its clean energy future.”
“2014: The Year of Concentrating Solar Power”
DOE funding and other means of support have been both seminal and pivotal in facilitating the rapid pace of technological advance and commercialization experienced in the CSP industry to date.
More than 13 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity had been installed in the U.S. as of year-end 2013. That’s more than 15 times the amount installed in 2008 and enough clean, renewable electricity to power over 2 million average U.S. homes.
The ability to combine utility-scale CSP electricity production with grid-scale energy storage would solve the solar energy industry’s biggest hurdle, and critics’ favorite target–solar energy’s intermittent nature. As Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stated in a DOE press release:
“By improving energy storage technologies for concentrating solar power systems, we can enhance our ability to provide clean and reliable solar power, even when the sun is not shining.”
Looking to disseminate and share news of developments and industry experience, the DOE, in addition to announcing R&D funding for six new projects, released a new report that highlights the progress made across five major CSP deployment projects that are already up, running and producing electricity.
“The year 2014 marks a significant milestone in the history of American solar energy. Through sustained, long-term investments by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and committed industry partners, some of the most innovative CSP plants in the world connected to the United States electricity grid in 2013, and five plants of this kind are expected to be fully operational by the end of 2014,” DOE highlights in the introduction of “2014: The Year of Concentrating Solar Power.”
Zooming in on CSP, the five facilities ramping up to full production in 2014 will almost quadruple CSP production capacity in the U.S. In its new report, the DOE provides status and progress updates for the 250-MW Solana CSP solar parabolic trough-thermal energy storage plant near Gila Bend, Ariz.; the 250-MW Genesis parabolic trough in Blythe, Calif.; the 392-MW Ivanpah CSP tower in Ivanpah Dry Lake, Calif.; the 110-MW Crescent Dunes CSP tower-thermal storage facility in Tonopah, Nev.; and Mojave One, a 250-MW CSP parabolic trough facility near Barstow, Calif.
All images credit: DOE, “2014: The Year of Concentrating Solar Power”