Concentrated solar power could save nearly 20 billion tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere over the next 30 years.
Solar power concentration typically directs light into a collection of some heat transfer fluid, usually water. When the water heats up, it expands and eventually starts to boil. This steam turns a steam turbine to generate electricity.
Concentrated solar power plants are thermal power plants that their energy source is the sun instead of coal or natural gas. Crescent Dunes was the first concentrated solar power (CSP) plant with a power tower and advanced molten salt energy storage technology.
This type of device to change thermal energy into electricity is a heat engine. People have used heat engines for centuries, and they still find broad use in energy generation. Keep reading to learn how to concentrate solar power and why it is useful.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a laboratory dedicated to the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.
7 Facts About Concentrated Solar Power
CSP technology is a method of collecting solar power that is different from the way normal solar panels work.
Here are 7 interesting facts about concentrated solar power.
1. Solar Power Comes from Nuclear Fusion
When atoms are at very high temperatures and pressures, as they are in the sun, they move very quickly and collide with each other all the time. When two protons collide, they combine to form a nucleus of deuterium, which is a proton and a neutron.
The deuterium combines with another proton to form a nucleus of tritium, which contains two protons and a neutron. Two tritium nuclei then combine to produce a helium nucleus and two more protons.
Because this produces two more protons, they then go on to contribute to more interactions, resulting in a chain reaction.
This process is called nuclear fusion and releases a large amount of energy that the sun then releases as sunlight. We can then collect the light here on Earth to use for our own energy.
2. Concentrated Solar Will Help with Climate Change
Carbon dioxide is the result of burning fossil fuels that we rely on to generate most of our electricity. But it is also a greenhouse gas that is likely contributing to global climate change.
Normally, the Earth reflects some heat from the sun, sending it back into space, but a build-up of greenhouse gases traps it in our atmosphere. The oceans sequester some carbon dioxide, and plants absorb some during photosynthesis.
However, a runaway greenhouse effect could be devastating to our planet. One way to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released is to switch to a renewable energy source like solar thermal power plants.
3. Trough Systems
One of the most common types of CSP plants in use today is the parabolic trough. These use mirrors in the shape of a parabola to direct the light received into a trough of water, which heats up and produces energy.
Another common type of system is the linear Fresnel system. This type is named after the Fresnel lens because of their similar operating principles. They use many small mirrors at different angles to simulate one very large mirror.
One advantage of the Fresnel system is that they can track the location of the sun in the sky and move to maximize the amount of light they collect.
4. Dishes and Towers
Another type of concentrated solar power plant is the parabolic dish. These systems look like satellite dishes, but they are made of mirrors. Because of their parabolic shape, they concentrate sunlight at a particular point, which produces heat and electricity.
The last type of CSP system is the solar tower. These use large arrays of mirrors on the ground that all point to the top of a power tower. When the solar radiation hits the tower, a fluid inside heats up and generates power for the system using a steam turbine.
5. Concentrated Solar Needs a Lot of Light
Unlike conventional solar panels, which you can use for individual homes and businesses, concentrated solar power needs to be a bigger operation. It needs a lot of space to collect enough sunlight to heat up the water it uses.
In addition to a relatively large area, it also needs a lot of sunlight. Even though photovoltaics can be used in almost any part of the United States, concentrated solar power systems are more limited by where they can work.
Because they need so much light, they are limited to areas where the sun is almost always shining. This means that even in warmer areas like the South, they may not be practical because of cloud cover.
They are most useful in dry desert regions where continuous light from the sun is highest. As this technology advances, however, they could become more practical in other areas.
6. Benefits of Concentrating Solar Power
There can be many concentrated solar power benefits depending on your particular circumstances.
Although concentrated solar power systems tend to require more space than conventional solar panels, they do have some significant advantages. One advantage is the ability to store energy.
Electricity is very difficult to store, but since concentrated solar power generates heat before it produces electricity, the heat can be stored for later use. In this way, these systems can continue to produce electricity even at night.
7. Concentrated Solar Power Is Similar to Photovoltaics
Normally, solar power is harvested with photovoltaic cells. These convert the light from the sun into electricity that we can use with pieces of silicon doped with boron and phosphorous.
The different layers of silicon doped with different elements means one side has a net positive charge while the other has a net negative charge. These opposite charges produce an electric field that guides electrons into one place.
When light from the sun hits the silicon, it knocks off electrons, which then flow to one end of the cell because of the electric field. They then become the electricity that we use.