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Systems Analysis

Featured Resource

Learn more about NREL's capabilities in modeling and analysis of CSP Systems.

NREL and other national laboratories support U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) systems analysis activities to evaluate and validate the cost, performance, durability, and grid penetration impacts for concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies. DOE's systems analysis program focuses on the greatest opportunities for impact, based on estimates of the current and future costs of CSP plants, subsystems, and components.

Opportunities and Potential Impact

The DOE SunShot Initiative to reduce the installed cost of solar energy systems by 75% by the end of the decade will require low-cost configurations that are easy to integrate into the electric grid. Systems analysis experts examine the cost and efficiency of existing and new CSP systems, as well as possible CSP hybrids, to promote early deployment of CSP systems, which is needed to drive down the cost of all CSP systems.

Analysis tools and resources provide guidance to CSP research and development activities by evaluating innovative, long-term concepts that can meet the SunShot initiative's targets. Examples of these tools and resources include:

  • Cost models for parabolic troughs and power towers
  • Cost analyses for CSP technology roadmaps
  • CSP case studies for the SunShot Initiative and the SunShot Vision Study
  • Advanced utility-scale solar financial models developed and integrated into the System Advisor Model (SAM) software
  • Grid penetration and life-cycle analysis studies
  • The Solar-augment study of the potential to integrate CSP into U.S. fossil power plants.

Current Research Projects

DOE supports the development of tools and resources to help analysts estimate the current and future cost of CSP plants and examine different financing options for CSP projects. These resources provide insights into different policy and future scenarios for CSP deployment, enabling critical resource and financial data to be disseminated to CSP stakeholders.

NREL's research on systems analysis focuses on several key areas:

  • SAM enhancements for CSP—Expanding SAM's CSP modeling functionality by:
    • Enhancing system capability to enable fast, large-scale simulations of CSP systems
    • Developing and validating detailed high-temporal-resolution models to augment existing central-receiver models
    • Developing advanced power-cycle and hybrid-plant models for CSP systems
    • Implementing novel thermal storage technologies and a computationally efficient empirical thermocline model.
  • Grid penetration studies—Assessing the feasibility of CSP systems with thermal energy storage to provide significant reliable power (i.e., 20% penetration) to the electricity grid.
  • Life-cycle analysis studies—Assessing the cradle-to-grave costs of CSP systems, especially making comparisons to other renewable and conventional power technologies.

Facilities and Capabilities

NREL models and tools help analysts provide insight into renewable energy technologies and their uses. Some key NREL models include:

  • Dynamic Maps, Geographic Information System (GIS) Data and Analysis Tools—A site providing dynamically generated maps of renewable energy resources that determine which energy technologies are viable solutions in the United States.
  • System Advisor Model (SAM)—A performance and financial model that provides performance predictions and cost-of-energy estimates for grid-connected power projects, based on specified installation and operating costs and system design parameters.
  • Regional Electricity Deployment System (ReEDS) Model—A capacity expansion model that analyzes critical energy issues in the U.S. electricity sector, with detailed treatment of the full potential of conventional and renewable electricity-generating technologies, as well as electricity storage.
  • Jobs and Economic Development Impact (JEDI)—User-friendly models that estimate the economic impacts of constructing and operating power generation and biofuel plants at the local and state levels.

Through innovative research and unique experience, facilities, and capabilities, the DOE national laboratories are working to accomplish the goal of the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative to make large-scale solar energy systems cost-competitive with other energy sources by 2020.