DOE Declares 2014 “The Year of Concentrating Solar”

by Henry Kaplan | May 30, 2014 |

(DOE's concentrated solar power tower diagram.)

In a new report (pdf) touting the success of its Sunshot program (which we just wrote about last week), the Department of Energy focused on concentrated solar, that ambitious and still emerging solar alternative to the more familiar photovoltaic solar panels. The report highlights five DOE-supported concentrated solar projects in the southwest that, when at full strength, will have a combined capacity of 1.26 gigawatts.

While concentrating solar has some advantages – for example, as a thermal energy generator, it plays well with thermal energy storage – it also has its disadvantages. It requires very large areas, and a very large investment.

More worryingly, three of the five sites DOE touts are in California, and as California is on track to meet its renewable energy goals, demand for new renewable projects has slowed. New concentrated solar projects in California are unlikely in the short term.

But though the current regulatory environment may not favor concentrated solar next year as much as it did last year, DOE aims to continue supporting the technology:

DOE’s ongoing research and development efforts aim to help enable the deployment of transformative CSP technologies within the next 3-5 years. These technologies include highly efficient reflector materials integrated with low-cost collector structures, lean solar field manufacturing and assembly approaches, self-aligning and tracking controls, and cost-effective thermal energy and thermochemical energy storage technologies, among others.

When conditions are right for the next generation of concentrated solar plants to be built, DOE wants the technology to be there.

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