Concentrated solar power technology is a promising renewable energy option that uses mirrors to focus sunlight onto a single receiver point, generating intense heat.
This heat can be used to produce electricity, spin turbines, desalinate water, or facilitate industrial processes requiring high temperatures. Concentrated Solar Power differs from solar photovoltaic (PV) systems as it uses heat energy instead of the light spectrum to generate power.
While this technology offers numerous advantages, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it requires significant upfront investment and occupies substantial land space. The future will tell if this technology develops further.
Have you ever heard of concentrated solar power?
Every few months, we hear about a new great solar invention. These inventions and announcements are often designed to get investors to invest in these companies. Concentrated Solar Power, also known as Concentrated Solar Thermal Technology (CSTT) is a promising future technology with a solid history. This technology uses a series of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a specific single receiver point, usually within a tower.
Having many mirrors reflect sunlight onto a single point creates a highly concentrated point of heat that can heat a fluid to a high temperature in a receiver.
The heat and steam produced by this fluid can subsequently drive turbines to generate electricity. Additionally, it finds applications in various processes, such as water desalination and industrial operations that demand high-temperature heat. Such as chemical production, food, or mining.
What can it be used for?
Typically concentrated solar power would be used in utility applications with large fields with hundreds of mirrors pointed to a tall tower. Reflecting heat from many mirrors onto the single receiver point.
Concentrated solar power is very different from Solar PV as concentrated solar power uses the sun’s heat energy to create electricity or energy. At the same time, Solar PV panels use the light spectrum of sunlight to create an electric current.
The solar collector, which directs sunlight onto a receiver, is the central part of a concentrated solar power system. This technique employs several collectors. This includes parabolic collectors, troughs, solar power towers, linear Fresnel reflectors, and dish/engine systems.
Here are some of the most common types of Concentrated Solar Power
In parabolic trough systems, sunlight is focused onto a receiver tube situated at the focal line using curved mirrors organised in a trough shape. The heat transfer fluid, often oil or molten salt, absorbs the concentrated sunlight and carries it to a power block, where it generates steam to drive a turbine generator.
Solar power tower
Heliostats are a field of mirrors used in solar power tower systems that focus sunlight onto a central receiver installed on top of a tower. The receiver receives concentrated sunlight and heats it to high temperatures. Frequently with the help of a heat transfer fluid or solid particles. The steam produced by the heat is then used to power a turbine, much like in parabolic trough systems.
Linear Fresnel reflectors
Flat mirrors are used in Linear Fresnel reflectors to direct sunlight onto a stationary receiver that is positioned above the mirrors. The receiver absorbs concentrated sunlight, and the heat is then transferred to a working fluid. This powers a heat engine or generates steam for use in industrial processes or electricity production.
The primary component of dish/engine systems comprises a large, reflective dish-shaped surface that redirects sunlight onto a receiver located at the focal point. The receiver converts the solar heat energy into mechanical power using either a Stirling engine or a Brayton cycle engine. You can use this mechanical power directly for mechanical operations or a generator to turn it into electricity.
Concentrated solar power technology has many advantages, such as decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. Concentrated solar power technology is a promising renewable energy option that uses the sun’s power to generate electricity and heat for various purposes. Because of its ability to focus sunlight and store thermal energy. It is a versatile and dispatchable source of clean energy. This technology has the potential to play a big part in the worldwide transition to a more sustainable energy future.
Nevertheless, one of the challenges is that this technology, when commercialised on a large scale, can demand a significant investment cost. It can also take up quite some land mass which is not available in all locations.