What Is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)?

Concentrated solar power systems (CSP) is a technique of producing electricity using mirrors.

The mirrors reflect, concentrate, and focus natural light onto one point, which is then converted to heat.

The steam produced by this method may be used to drive a turbine to generate electrical energy over several days when there’s no sun or before sunrise and after sunset.

Because CSP technology can store the heat generated, it may be utilized on cloudy days or in between sunrises and sunsets.

How Does Concentrated Solar Power Work?

CSP technologies use a mirror configuration to concentrate the sun’s energy to produce heat.

The concentrated heat is then used to generate electricity in a steam turbine or to heat a working fluid, which can be used to power a Stirling engine.

CSP may be integrated with conventional power plants to provide thermal energy storage, which can be used to generate electricity during peak demand periods (i.e., when there is no sun or low solar insolation).

Also to produce hybrid power plants that use both solar and fossil fuels like gas, coal, and some biofuels.

Related: A few solar stats

There are four types of CSP technologies:

1. Parabolic trough systems

A solar energy receiver pipe collects the concentrated sunlight, which is then focused through curved, trough-shaped reflectors onto a receiver pipe. A steam generator converts thermal oil into electricity in a steam generator by heating it and then sending it to a power block.

The troughs concentrate sunlight at 30 to 100 times its usual intensity due to the parabolic form.

The fluid is then circulated through a heat exchanger that transfers thermal energy to water, which is heated in order to create steam.

The generated steam drives a turbine, which generates electricity.

The great thing with these systems is the ability to recycle the heat. This means the hot fluid is able to return to the heat exchanger, which then heats up the water again, creating steam and generating electricity.

The heated fluid can also be stored and used later, which is great for those cloudy days or during peak demand periods.

Related: How Do Solar Panels Work?

2. Power tower systems

Power tower systems employ heliostats that follow the sun and concentrate its rays on a receiver located at the top of a tower.

Steam is generated in the receiver, which drives a turbine generator, thanks to hot fluid (usually molten salts).

3. Linear fresnel systems

A large number of collectors are arranged in rows. The mirrors are laid flat on the ground and reflect the sun onto the receiver pipe above.

Fresnel can be used to create steam directly or store energy in a power block, much like trough and tower systems.

4. Parabolic dish systems

A parabolic-shaped dish functions as a concentrator, reflecting solar energy onto a receiver mounted on a structure with a tracking system that follows the sun.

The collected heat is then utilized to power a heat engine.

The dish can reach temperatures up to 1500°C (2700°F), making it potentially ideal for use in solar reactors.

Is concentrated solar power cheaper?

Since Concentrated solar power plants are much easier to operate than nuclear or hydrocarbon-based facilities, they can generate electricity at a lower cost.

CSP has the potential to be dispatchable, meaning it can generate electricity on demand, unlike most other renewable energy sources.

This is because CSP plants can store heat in molten salt for use when needed.

Related: Solar Panel Arrays (WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY?)

The Advantages Of Concentrated Solar Power

  • CSP plants can be built at a lower cost than PV plants.
  • CSP plants require less land than PV plants.
  • Reduces carbon footprint.
  • Because CSP systems can store solar energy as molten salts, the electricity generated is predictable and dependable.
  • CSP plants can be used to generate electricity on cloudy days or in between sunrises and sunsets.
  • CSP plants can be integrated with conventional power plants to provide thermal energy storage, which can be used to generate electricity during peak demand periods (i.e., when there is no sun or low solar insolation). Also to produce hybrid power plants that use both solar and fossil fuels like gas, coal, and some biofuels.
  • It will never be depleted and may be used indefinitely, making it an environmentally friendly energy source.

The Disadvantages Of Concentrated Solar Power

  • The Levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for CSP is higher than for PV.
  • CSP plants require greater maintenance than PV plants.
  • CSP technology is still in its early stages of development, which means that it has not yet been proven on a large scale.
  • CSP plants require a large amount of water for cooling, which could be an issue in arid regions.
  • Solar thermal power plants are dependent on the sun’s position. Because solar thermal power plants require a large area of land to function, they are unattractive in populated areas.
  • CSP does not always receive the development it needs to become a primary energy source, owing in part to competition from competing energy sources such as solar PV and fission-based nuclear power.

How Efficient Is Concentrated Solar Power?

A CSP system’s efficiency is determined by a variety of factors. The type of system, the engine, and the receiver all have an impact on how efficiently a concentrated solar power system works.

According to an EnergySage statistic cited above, most CSP systems have an efficiency level of 7 to 25 percent.

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and solar thermal systems have an efficiency of up to 90% while wind turbines typically have an efficiency of 59 percent.

The efficiencies of hydropower systems and wind turbines are comparable to those of concentrated solar power systems since most photovoltaic panels have a 14-23 percent efficiency.

Where Is Concentrated Solar Power Used?

Concentrated Solar Power can be utilized in many industrial settings, including water desalination, enhanced oil recovery, food processing, chemical production, and mineral processing.

Utility-scale concentrator solar thermal power plants are the most common type of CSP plants.

What Is The Difference Between Solar Pv And Concentrated Solar Power?

The difference between solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar power is that CSP systems employ a variety of mirror designs to turn sunlight into electricity using heat engines.

Photovoltaic solar panels, on the other hand, convert light directly into electricity rather than converting energy from sunlight.

PV differs from CSP because it converts light directly into power instead of transforming energy from sun rays.

What Are Some Environmental Impacts Of Using Concentrated Solar Power?

Cleaning the mirrors in CSP facilities is difficult since they are often located in arid, or “sun belt,” regions where access to clean water is restricted.

Water and thermal cycle cooling towers are needed for the cleaning process, as well as for cooling.

The use of significant quantities of fresh water in these regions is frequently criticized, especially when regional thirst and water shortages are taken into consideration.

The impact of CSP plants on the environment is somewhat similar to that of traditional power plants, such as coal-fired power plants.

The main difference is that CSP plants use solar panels instead of coal to generate electricity.

Solar panels do not produce air pollution or greenhouse gases. However, manufacturing and disposing of solar panels can have negative environmental impacts.

CSP plants can have a significant visual impact on the landscape. The large mirrors used in CSP plants reflect sunlight, which can be disruptive to wildlife and cause glare for humans.

Related: How Much Does It Cost To Clean Solar Panels

What Does The Future Hold For Concentrated Solar Power?

CSP technology is still in its early stages of development, which means that it has not yet been proven on a large scale.

That being said, CSP has the potential to become a major player in the renewable energy market.

In particular, CSP plants have the advantage of being able to generate electricity on cloudy days or in between sunrises and sunsets.

Furthermore, CSP plants can be integrated with conventional power plants to provide thermal energy storage, which can be used to generate electricity during peak demand periods (i.e., when there is no sun or low sun).

This type of integration is not possible with PV plants.

References:

Main Image – Concentrated solar power via Wikipedia

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