Crowdsourcing and CSP Energy Storage Headline DOE Push to Achieve SunShot Goals

Ali ZaidiLast week was a busy and eventful one for the solar energy industry as market participants from across the U.S., and around the world, gathered in Anaheim, Calif. for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Grand Challenge Summit 2014. Among the highlights of the four-day summit: The DOE announced funding for six new concentrating solar power-thermochemical energy storage (TCES) R&D projects and launched SunShot Catalyst, a $1 million crowdsourcing contest that the Energy Department believes can accelerate the pace of solar energy innovation and cost reductions.

The SunShot Grand Challenge Summit 2014’s event calendar was chock full of Obama administration and industry heavyweights and thought leaders, including ARPA-E‘s Dr. Cheryl Martin, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Dan Arvizu, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Cristin Dorgelo.

Commenting on President Barack Obama’s SunShot Initiative, the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Ali Zaidi stated, “If moonshot was a race away from our planet, SunShot, in a way, is a race to save our planet.”

Crowdsourcing innovation to bring down solar energy soft costs

The overriding aim of the summit was to focus attention and rally industry participants and policy makers around making a concerted “push” to realize the 40 percent reduction in solar energy costs that would achieve the SunShot Initiative’s goal: bringing the cost of solar energy down to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), a levelized cost on par or below that of “other non-renewable sources of electricity generation.”

Providing impetus for the effort, the DOE announced the launch of the SunShot Catalyst Program. With the aim of accelerating breakthroughs capable of driving the “soft costs” of solar energy lower and thereby bringing the overall cost of solar energy down to the SunShot Initiative goal of 6 cents per kWh.

The DOE’s SunShot Catalyst, through a series of prize challenges, “makes it faster and easier for American innovators to launch cutting-edge solar companies, while tackling time-sensitive market challenges.”

Consisting of four steps, SunShot Catalyst’s winning contestants will receive awards totaling $1 million, including some $500,000 in cash prizes. Up to five winners in Step One, the “Ideation” stage, will take home $1,000 in cash each.

As many as 20, Step Two “Business Innovation” winners will receive $25,000 in services. Up to 20 finalists in the Step Three “Prototype” stage will advance to Step Four, the “Incubation” stage. As many as five Step Five winners will each earn a prize package valued at up to $100,000. The first cash prizes are to be announced on Feb. 9, 2015.

In addition to the cash prizes and packages, the DOE will provide unparalleled support to help assure SunShot Catalyst contestants succeed. All contestants, for instance, will gain access “to the vast array of tools, capabilities, data assets and additional resources” developed by the Energy Department and national labs. That includes tapping into “the nation’s growing networks of technology mentors, incubators, and accelerators.” Check out the video for more:

$10 million SunShot funding for concentrating solar power-thermochemical energy storage

As 3p has been reporting, a new iteration of utility-scale concentrating solar power plants (CSP) capable of supplying clean, renewable electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week is coming online. Integrating high-density thermochemical energy storage systems (TCES) with CSP plants, Energy Department funding and support has been pivotal in achieving this milestone.

As the Energy Department explains, its “CSP ELEMENTS”–Efficiently Leveraging Equilibrium Mechanisms for Engineering New Thermochemical nergy Storage (TCES)–funding program supports development of TCES systems “that can validate a cost of less than or equal to $15 per kilowatt-hour-thermal (kWht) and operate at temperatures greater than or equal to 650 degrees Celsius.”

As the Energy Department explains,

“TCES presents opportunities for storing the sun’s energy at high densities in the form of chemical bonds for use in utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) electricity generation.”

During last week’s SunShot summit, the Energy Department announced $10 million in new CSP ELEMENTS funding for six R&D projects. From the DOE’s CSP ELEMENTS website, here’s the list of awardees and a brief description of their R&D projects:

  • Colorado School of Mines, SunShot Award Amount: $1,008,511

Project Summary: This project will explore how changing the chemical make-up of sand-like particles called perovskites can reduce the cost of the particles without destroying the usefulness of the perovskite chemical reaction responsible for storing the sun’s energy. These newly designed sand-like particles, or perovskites, will be tested at high temperatures using concentrated solar power to prove their usefulness as thermochemical energy storage materials. This project builds upon strategies to efficiently heat sand-like particles that were devised by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, as well as expertise at both the Colorado School of Mines and Abengoa Solar.

  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, SunShot Award Amount: $2,906,415

Project Summary: This project uses a high-temperature metal hydride bed to capture the sun’s heat at or above 650°C and a second metal hydride bed to store the hydrogen gas released by the heat capture process. The second hydride bed operates near room temperature. The pairing of the two high and low temperature hydride beds enables hydrogen gas storage at low pressures, reducing costs to a level unachievable by current gas storage methods. This solution will enable solar power generation for extended periods of time.

  • Sandia National Laboratories, SunShot Award Amount: $3,450,000

Project Summary: This project seeks to design a system that concentrates sunlight onto a falling curtain of sand-like particles called perovskites. The perovskites heat up and undergo a chemical reaction. The chemical reaction captures the sun’s energy and the perovskites are stored until the sun goes down. The pervoskites are then re-exposed to air, reversing the chemical reaction and releasing the sun’s heat for use in a very efficient Air-Brayton electric power generation system. The project evaluates how effective the chemical reaction is through a test of a 100 kilowatt hour-thermal thermochemical energy storage system.

  • Southern Research Institute, SunShot Award Amount: $836,697

Project Summary: This project seeks to develop a thermochemical energy storage system (TCES) that uses low-cost calcium carbonate and silicate materials in an endothermic-exothermic chemical reaction cycle. The cycle stores energy during the endothermic step and releases energy during the exothermic step, both of which proceed at temperatures at or above 650°C. This work advances the proposed technology readiness level of the TCES system by demonstrating the system’s key advantages, including its high efficiencies and its potential to meet a cost target of $15 per kilowatt hour-thermal.

  • University of Florida, SunShot Award Amount: $791,200

Project Summary: This project employs strontium carbonate and high temperature concentrated solar power in an endothermic-exothermic chemical reaction cycle to provide around-the-clock energy. This project uses inexpensive, safe, non-corrosive chemicals. During no-sunlight periods, solar heat can be released at temperatures previously unachievable with other carbonate-based thermochemical energy storage systems.

  • University of California, Los Angeles, SunShot Award Amount: $1,182,788

Project Summary: This project seeks to leverage the well-understood ammonia synthesis reaction and apply it to solar thermochemical storage. The project seeks to optimize the synthesis reactor and associated heat exchanger to prove that the ammonia synthesis reaction can be used to directly generate supercritical steam at 650°C, a feat not yet proven.

Image courtesy of the SunShot Grand Challenge Summit

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

Leave a Reply