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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Is phase-change material storage better than molten salt thermal energy storage for a concentrated solar power plant? Photo: Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, SolarReserve
Too much salt is not just bad for your health. It could also harm the likelihood of thermal energy storage (TES) cost reduction across the entire concentrated solar power (CSP) industry.
Right now, molten salt TES is seen as critical in justifying the high cost of CSP versus other renewable energy sources, such as solar PV or wind.
TES allows CSP, or solar thermal energy, to deliver stable, round-the-clock power, which is more valuable to grid operators than the intermittent generation provided by renewable alternatives.
But it is just possible that a growing preference for molten salt among CSP developers could hamper the chances of adopting more efficient and cost-effective types of TES.
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Energy storage is increasingly being recognised as a key component of renewable energy plants. For the evidence, look no further than Commissioner Sandoval of the California Public Utilities Commission, commenting on the Commission’s unanimous decision to endorse funding for Solar Reserve’s Rice Solar Energy Project.
“This particular project will also offer storage, which is a key component, and make it therefore hopefully more flexible in terms of being able to help us support integration,” said Sandoval. “I look forward to this technology coming into California.”
Rice will be California’s first solar project to incorporate large-scale energy storage; in this case, eight hours’ worth. It will be able to generate enough energy to power more than 65,000 homes during peak electricity periods. Planned to go online in mid-2016, it is crucial if the Sunshine State is to meet its 33% renewables target for energy.