A New Type of Solar Power Gains Interest
Previously held back due to insufficient funding and technical difficulties, CSP is now gaining attention as a useful technology as governments accelerate the push to decarbonise. Well-funded entities are now working on developing the technology.
CSP supporters claim heat generated by CSP systems and their storage capabilities provide benefits over other renewable energy sources to bolster grid-scale electricity and supply various industrial processes with energy.
How the Technology Works
Instead of directly changing sunlight into electricity like photovoltaic panels do, CSP utilises mirrors called heliostats which concentrate sunlight on receivers filled with a liquid or solid material. The sunlight heats the material to very high temperatures which creates thermal energy.
The intensely heated material can produce steam that can be used to spin a turbine or power an engine, generating electricity. The advantages that CSP has over other renewables is it can store heat that can generate up to 12 hours of energy for on demand or later use, whereas lithium batteries that store energy from photovoltaic systems can only store three or four hours’ worth of energy.
Industrial processes that need high temperatures like concrete, steel and chemical production can make use of CSP as opposed to using electricity from solar panels and converting it to heat.
Guangdong Zhu, a senior researcher in the US Concentrating Solar Power and Geothermal Technology programs at the federally funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado in the U.S.A. said that CSP won’t be a replacement for photovoltaic solar energy but can be used as a supplement.
“If we are trying to decarbonise the grid with 100% renewable energy”, he said, “then we need everything”.