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US DOE to award up to $72M to advance high-temperature concentrating solar power systems

The US. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $72 million for new projects to advance high-temperature concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies. These projects will extend previous research on high-temperature components, develop them into integrated assemblies, and test these components and systems through a wide range of operational conditions.

CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a focused point where it is collected and converted into heat. This thermal energy can be stored and used to produce electricity whenever it is needed. The best commercially available technologies can only reach 565 °C. The high-temperature thermal systems targeted by this program seek to achieve at least 700 °C, which would boost the efficiency and lower the cost of the electricity.

If successful, these projects will lower the cost of a CSP system by approximately $0.02 per kilowatt-hour, which is 40% of the way to the office’s 2030 cost goals of $0.05 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for baseload CSP plants.

Through the Generation 3 CSP (Gen3 CSP) program, three teams have been selected to compete to build an integrated system that can efficiently receive solar heat and deliver it to a working fluid at greater than 700 °C temperature, while incorporating thermal energy storage.

Over the first 2-year period, those teams will work de-risk various aspects of diversified CSP technology pathways, prepare a detailed design for a test facility, and be subjected to a rigorous review process to select a single awardee to construct their proposed facility. If selected, they will receive an additional $25 million over the subsequent three years to build a test facility that allows diverse teams of researchers, laboratories, developers and manufacturers to remove key technological risks for the next generation CSP technology. Those awardees and their phase one funding include:

  • Brayton Energy: $7.6 million
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory: $7 million
  • Sandia National Laboratories: $9.5 million

In addition to this process, eight awardees have been selected to develop either component-level technology or utilize unique cross-cutting research capabilities that support the goal of a successful integrated testing site. Those awardees include:

  • Electric Power Research Institute: $1.5 million
  • Georgia Institute of Technology: $2 million
  • Georgia Institute of Technology: $1.4 million
  • University of Tulsa : $1.5 million
  • Hayward Tyler: $2 million
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology: $1.8 million
  • Mohawk Innovative Technology: $1.3 million
  • Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana): $2 million

DOE has provided an additional $10 million in funding to national labs to support this work. These projects will help to expand the foundational knowledge necessary to building this test site. Partnered labs include:

  • Idaho National Laboratory: $1 million
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory: $1 million
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory: $4.3 million
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory: $1 million
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory: $1 million
  • Sandia National Laboratories: $1 million
  • Savannah River National Laboratory: $700,000



Baseload CSP plants?  None exist in the USA.  40% of the way to $0.05/kWh assumes it's $0.10/kWh today, which is half of the only figure I can find for what Ivanpah is paid.

Trying to use CSP on the surface of a planet is a mistake.


Ivanphah? It would seem more appropriate to look at Crescent Dunes which is more recent than Ivanpah. Unlike Ivanpah, Crescent Dunes actually has storage. Crescent Dunes' contract price is $0.135/kwh and the company feels confident enough to have won a contract for about US$06/kwh for Aurora in Port Augusta, South Australia.


The last time I looked at figures for Crescent Dunes, it was pretty much out of service.

The claims about it differ.  One site claims a 51.9% design capacity factor but penciling out the DOE numbers over 8766 hr/yr yields 50.0% spec.  Using the latter figure plus the amount of the loan guarantee, the plant cost comes to $13,400 per average kW.  That isn't particularly cheap, and it's far from the first of its kind (unlike Vogtle 3&4).

What sort of subsidies have been granted for the SA project?

Since these plants are only feasible in deserts at low latitudes, they cannot be generalized to the entire world.  Most electricity is consumed at upwards of 40° from the equator.  Even if it works, Crescent Dunes must be considered more of a curiosity than a case study for all or even most economies.


Crescent Dunes appears to be back online after some problems with a leak in the hot salt storage tank, though it doesn’t look like it is running at full spec.

Good point about subsidies. I forgot about the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC). I don’t know if the Aurora Solar Project has any similar subsidies, or if it’s just a $A100 million low-interest rate loan from the federal government which may not have been granted yet.

Much of the growth in electricity demand seems to be in the Middle East and China which have large deserts. Where it works, it should be used. It’s better than oil and coal currently used. Elsewhere, use something suitable for the locale.


Speaking of the Crescent Dunes restart, I found it extremely odd that it supposedly took months to refill the salt tank.  It seems obvious to me that the way to go about it is to have a mixing/melting tank where hot salt from the collector is mixed with dry solid salt and pumped back into the collector at the cold-side temperature.  Hot liquid salt would be piped into the tank as new salt was melted to replace it.  That kind of process should have been able to refill the system over just a few sunny days.  Did nobody even think of this?

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