Concentrated Solar Power
Thermal energy is a type of energy that can come from the sun. It takes benefit of the sun’s heat as an energy source, and it is also one undepletable source that scientists have spent time and effort in studying for use in industries and homes. The sun’s heat is very powerful, and it is a waste if we don’t make use of this ubiquitous energy source to our advantage.
However, to harness its energy, the scientists figured that they need a device that will facilitate the accumulation of heat or light from the sun. This is probably why the study of concentrated solar power came about. They realized that if the technology behind it is discovered and developed, it can potentially provide huge amounts of energy that can be transformed into electricity, which can then be used to power up heavy machinery and equipment in plantations.
This technology has almost been in existence for a century now, yet not a lot of people know how it works or what its benefits are. This article will explore this brand of solar energy by providing its definition, mechanism, types, pros and cons, and providing an overall insight on this innovation.
What Is Concentrated Solar Power?
Concentrated solar power is the mechanism employed in CSP plants. It is perfect for large-scale operations as its cost can be lower than using regular solar panels. Since it has a huge capacity, it can provide sufficient vigor for heavy machinery.
Specifically, this mechanism converts the light (or heat) coming from the sun to actuate a turbine. It can also be harnessed for other industrial plant operations like water desalination or removal of minerals and salts from saline water, food production and processing, mineral processing, chemical production, and enhanced oil recovery.
This technology is preferred due to its potential to deliver copious amounts of energy with self-sustainability and reduced waste. Since it only requires access to the sun, it can be built practically anywhere, which addresses the grid integration challenges of remote industries. This also enables the structure to operate even after daylight as the juice obtained during the day can be saved up for nighttime consumption.
Concentrated solar power plants can even stock power throughout the night, which is not something that regular solar photovoltaic cells are capable of. The sum installed sufficiency globally in 2018 was 5500 megawatts, with Spain accounting for about 50% of the planet’s reserve. So far, the largest plant was built in Morocco that was successful in providing 580 megawatts of electrical power to over 1 million residents.
Building concentrated solar plants, however, can be a costly endeavor. However, scientific developments have enabled the cost to be decreased significantly over time. For example, the DEWA project in Dubai, a project that’s under establishment in 2019, recorded the lowest CSP price of $73 per megawatt-hour.
How CSP Works
How exactly do concentrated solar power plants operate? As you may already know, these plants take leverage of the sun’s light or heat to effect huge amounts of power, which makes it a great power source. Specifically, it does that through the use of mirrors. Mirrors allow these devices to concentrate the needed jolt onto a point, a receiving medium, to be materialized into usable heat, and when fused to solar storage systems, electricity.
Therefore, CSP solar power can generate the needed juice either as a standalone structure or as a system pooled with other sources to meet the specified wattage or heat requirement. These are what they call hybrid power plants. Some examples of structures that these operations can be combined or integrated with are combined cycle power plants, thermal-fired power plants, and fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, if integrated, serve as a backup energy source during low-light periods. However, if the goal is to have purely renewable energy, companies opt for systems that do not use fossil fuels and other non-renewable sources.
Main CPS System Types
There are four major types of CSP energy sources currently available: Parabolic Trough, Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector, Power Tower, and Dish Stirling. Of course, each has its own upsides and downsides. The parabolic trough is the more well-known kind. This particular type uses a linear parabolic reflector to channel light onto the receiving medium, a medium that is situated along the focal segment of the reflector.
The receiving medium, which is a tube, is filled with a working fluid, and is placed in the middle of the parabolic mirror and is set to take the path of the sunlight along a singular axis. This allows the fluid inside to be warmed up while flowing through the receiving end, which serves as the heat source of the structure.
The Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector, on the other hand, is composed of numerous thin and flat strips of mirror that are used to channel the sunlight to the receiving tubes. Like in the parabolic trough, the warmed up fluid is allowed to ooze through the system as the heat source. The mirrors in this type are oriented north-south to enable maximum accumulation of sunlight. However, among these four models, this is regarded as the model with the lowest efficiency.
Another concentrating solar power type is the power tower. This kind utilizes an array of dual-axis tracking reflectors called heliostats, which are controlled by a computer. These reflectors channel the sunlight on the central receiving unit on the topmost portion of the tower. This receiver is filled with a heat-transfer fluid that is made up of molten salt and is warmed up to 1000 degrees Celcius. This heat produces steam that is utilized as the power source and is reserved for future consumption. The power tower with its high operating temperature, is known to have high efficiency.
The fourth kind is the Dish Stirling. This requires a parabolic dish surface to focus the sunlight on the receiving medium at its focal point. These dishes are rotating along bidirectional axes to follow the sun. Its working fluid is filled into the receiver where it is heated to up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. This heightened temperature is what’s driving an engine.
Pros and Cons of Concentrated Solar Power Systems
Like any other operations, there are pros and cons to having CSPs. Here’s a list for your reference.
- It’s renewable and can be eco-friendly.
- It can be an alternative to steam-producing machines.
- It can produce copious amounts of energy.
- It can be highly efficient.
- The operation costs can be lower than a regular nuclear plant.
- It can supplement other energy sources.
- The energy yield can be intermittent.
- Its construction may be costly and may require a huge space.
- It may not be the best option for communities because it’s location-dependent.
- It can have adverse ecological impacts.
The pros of this source clearly trump the cons, and this solar power system type can deliver megawatts of energy to provide energy for millions of households and industries.
Solar energy is one of the greatest innovations of the century. It has given us endless possibilities that could potentially help us solve the energy deficiency of the planet. Concentrated solar power plants are one of the alternatives to the non-renewable resources we are currently using.
There are four CSP types: parabolic trough, compact linear Fresnel reflector, power tower, and Dish Stirling, each with its own upsides and downsides, but they can all be functional to power up turbines and supply heat energy. The energy that they create can also be materialized into electrical power that can be used to operate machines.