Understanding Concentrated Solar Power

Concentrated Solar Power, otherwise known as CSP, converts the sun’s heat directly into electricity. CSP solar panels also store thermal energy to produce electricity and use mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a receiver.

No matter what climate or time of day you need solar energy, consider CSP to be a reliable option for renewable solar energy practices.

Here, we are going to share more information about the power of CSP solar panels, including their uses, operations, technological approaches, and more. 

What makes this solar power technology reliable? Keep reading to find out.

What Is CSP?

CSP technologies transform the sun’s energy into high heat, producing electricity at a commercial scale. Rather than using direct sunlight to generate electricity, CSP plants use mirrors to reflect the sun’s energy and project high-temperature sunlight onto a receiver. 

CSP generates electricity when the concentrated sunlight from the mirrors uses solar thermal energy to drive a steam turbine. The steam turbine then attaches to a power generator for efficient results.

The high heat from CSP translates to thermal energy, of which CSP stores plenty. However, CSP does not require any direct sunlight to function and stores efficient amounts of energy during unpredictable climate conditions.

Generally, CSP power systems are most beneficial in larger-scale projects, but it is still a versatile technology system that more facilities may find helpful. 

Furthermore, the plants from CSP contain two parts, which we will dive into in just a bit.

CSP has the potential to thrive in the energy market. That is why we believe that more people deserve to know about its benefits.

Uses of CSP

Since CSP is used for solar energy, the following requirements are important to consider:

  • Financing for commercial-scale projects to generate efficient electricity
  • Working in areas with high solar radiation
  • Using large acres of land for efficient thermal energy storage and solar radiation collection
  • Having direct access to water for cooling purposes
  • Having access to transmissions

How Does CSP Operate?

All three of CSP’s technological approaches, which we will touch on later in this guide, need mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver. They also need to produce heat at high temperatures.

The heat then transforms into a hot fluid, which makes steam that generates electricity.

CSP plants consist of two parts. One area collects solar energy to generate heat.

The other part of the CSP plant uses energy from heat to create electricity. CSP systems are also thermal-based, meaning they need to store thermal energy to generate electricity. 

CSP vs. PV

CSP and Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are both prominent solutions in the energy market, but PV has been around for a bit longer than CSP. Each technological option offers something beneficial for the energy market, but the two systems are a bit different from one another.

Although the two systems are often compared, PV systems are more widely used in the solar energy market due to lower costs than CSP. However, CSP stores more energy in unstable conditions and throughout the evening, appealing to certain electrical facilities.

PV produces electricity using special cells, otherwise known as the photovoltaic effect. Unlike CSP, PV needs direct sunlight to generate electricity.

By converting direct sunlight into an alternating current, PV is then able to store and generate electricity. However, PV cannot store thermal energy like CSP. 

CSP, on the other hand, distributes electricity through a large power network by converting the sun’s heat into electricity. 

4 Technological Approaches

Many people are now considering CSP as a preferred solar energy technology. While this system likes to operate on a large scale, CSP utilizes four different technological approaches: trough systems, power tower systems, and dish/engine systems. 

1. Parabolic Trough Systems

Trough systems use reflectors with oil-filled pipes to mirror the sun. By mirroring the sunlight, the reflector’s pipes then heat the oil to high temperatures (approximately 750 degrees Fahrenheit).

The hot oil boils water into steam for steam turbines and generators.

2. Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector

The Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector system, otherwise referred to as CLFR, uses curved mirrors with parallel rows of flat mirrors. The mirrors reflect the sun’s energy onto a receiver, using water-filled tubes to boil water for high-pressure steam. 

3. Power Tower Systems

Power tower systems, also known as central receivers, track the sun’s movement with mirrors. The mirrors direct the sun’s rays onto a receiver, which heats fluid up to 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then, the hot fluid, or molten salt, makes steam to generate electricity and future storage. Before generating electricity, molten salt can be stored away for several days to retain heat.

Through this technological approach, electricity can appear on cloudy days or deep into the night, allowing for up to 24 hours of power.

4. Dish/Engine Systems

Dish/engine systems utilize large mirrored dishes to reflect sunlight onto a central receiver. The dish tracks the sun’s movement as well.

Then, the receiver combines forces with a high-efficiency external combustion engine to generate a maximum amount of solar energy. The combustion engine contains hydrogen or helium gas tubes that heat the gas to high temperatures.

The gas then expands inside the thin tubes, using pistons to drive an electric generator. 

Advantages of CSP

CSP offers plenty of advantages in the solar power industry. And because CSP is a thermal-based system, it does not require direct sunlight to generate electricity effectively. 

While many believe that CSP and PV solar panels provide positive contributions to the energy market, most do not see how they could work together because they are such different systems. However, the competition between CSP and PV does not have to be a heavy factor.

For the solar power industry to thrive, investors may want to consider integrating the two systems over time. Since CSP systems can operate throughout unpredictable climate conditions and generate power when PV cannot, CSP’s thermal energy storage would merge well with PV turbines.

The Importance of Thermal Energy Storage

In CSP plants with adequate storage, solar energy heats molten salt and other high-heat oils. After the hot fluids and thermal energy enter insulated tanks, the oil goes into a steam generator to generate electricity. 

Most solar energy resources are only available during daylight. However, CSP’s thermal energy storage allows it to function for at least 24 hours.

The power that CSP produces is dispatchable and self-sustainable, which could be considered innovative in the solar power industry. 

An economic and eco-friendly solution to the energy market, CSP with thermal storage is gaining traction in the industry. 

CSP vs. Natural Gas

In truth, CSP competes with natural gas, thermal technologies, and other thermal-based energy sources more than PV. 

CSP requires heat from the sun to produce strong electric currents, and natural gas generates power sources through processing plants. Both forms of energy are dispatchable, but one is more harmful to the environment.  

While natural gas is more affordable than CSP, it is not the safest energy resource. Not only is natural gas harmful to the environment because it can leak methane, but its cost may go up eventually regardless.

There is a possibility that natural gas may become more scarce, which is when we would see prices increase exponentially. 

Work With OnePointe Solutions

If you work in the solar power industry and are considering furnishing a lab for your large-scale facility, look to OnePointe Solutions for guidance. We are happy to help! 

At OnePointe Solutions, we enjoy working directly with our clients to generate a custom lab design plan, installing innovative, energy-efficient solutions to facilitate the needs of your lab space. 

Are you also looking for top-of-the-line laboratory, industrial, or commercial furniture? Our team of experts has years of professional industry experience manufacturing custom workstations to match numerous design preferences.

We can also supply you with other types of lab furniture including chemical resistant countertops like epoxy resin and stainless steel to special pieces of equipment like fume hoods, biosafety cabinets, and more. 

We want to help you discover high-quality, diverse products that your facility needs to function.

If you would like to get in touch with the OnePointe Solutions team, schedule a free phone consultation by calling (866) 612-7312.

Questions? Concerns? Want to start today? Get in touch. 866.612.7312

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