SolarReserve chases even hotter molten salt

SolarReserve, the solar thermal power plant developer, intends to dramatically increase the temperature of molten salt storage with a grant from the SunShot Initiative. Photo credit: Crescent Dunes, SolarReserve

SolarReserve, the solar thermal power plant developer, intends to dramatically increase the temperature of molten salt storage with a grant from the SunShot Initiative. Photo credit: Crescent Dunes, SolarReserve

By Jason Deign

SolarReserve, the solar thermal plant developer, is going after molten salt storage systems of more than 700ºC with a USD$2.4m award from the US government.

The award, announced last Wednesday, comes from the US Department of Energy SunShot Initiative’s Concentrating Solar Power: Advanced Projects Offering Low LCOE Opportunities (CSP: APOLLO) programme.

It will be used with matching funds from SolarReserve and other commercial partners to develop a new form of high-temperature ceramic receiver, according to Tim Connor, SolarReserve’s vice president of engineering and technology.

This “breaks through current temperature and performance barriers, while meaningfully increasing efficiency, energy storage capabilities and lowering capital cost,” Connor said in a press release.

The receiver technology should raise operating temperatures in molten salt power tower solar thermal plants by some 300ºC from a current maximum of around 565ºC.
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Concentrating solar in crisis – energy storage to the rescue?

The outlook for concentrating solar power (CSP) is a mixed one, according to Earthtechling. The technology that uses mirrors to focus sunlight to create heat, which can then be utilize to produce electricity, is chalking up some successes, with big projects in the US and South Africa.

On the other hand, BrightSource Energy is not having the success it hoped for, with only two projects green-lit out of a possible five. Meanwhile, Siemens has turned its back on the sector entirely. The reason? The industry cannot compete with the plummeting price of photovoltaic (PV) technology.

But there may be some good news on the horizon, according to the CSP industry itself – and that is energy storage. “A robust body of research is available and demonstrates that CSP with storage provides additional economic and reliability value to utilities and grid operators when compared to other renewable investments,” Udi Helman, director of economic and pricing analysis for BrightSource Energy, said in a CSPA release.

The NREL study which Helman cites, reports that: “CSP with a six-hour storage capacity can lower peak net loads when the sun isn’t shining, enough to add $35.80 per megawatt hour to the capacity and operational value of the utility, compared to photovoltaic (PV) solar power alone, and even higher extra value when compared to CSP without storage.”