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Research Expertise

NREL's research expertise in concentrating solar power technologies includes managing and supporting parabolic trough research and development (R&D); using a systems-driven modeling and analysis approach; and developing advanced components and technologies.

Managing and Supporting Parabolic Trough R&D

NREL has lead responsibility for managing, directing, and supporting parabolic trough R&D activities. In-house and subcontracted research and development supports the optimization of parabolic trough system designs as well as improvements in the performance, reliability, and cost of key system components. Our experts use sophisticated systems analysis tools developed in-house to identify and prioritize R&D activities, which help position parabolic trough systems for near- and long-term commercial markets in the United States and abroad.

Our research staff help our industry partners overcome technical barriers through the use of our unique collection of in-house tools. We use our optical testing laboratory and optical analysis and modeling tools extensively to test, validate, and improve the performance of parabolic trough concentrators. Advanced materials development—including thermal storage fluids and optical materials—support high-risk cost reduction approaches identified as important for long-term competitiveness of trough technologies.

Using a Systems-Driven Modeling and Analysis Approach

Effective design and optimization of concentrating solar power systems and components benefit from advanced simulation. We use a systems-driven approach for analyzing the cost and performance of concentrating parabolic trough systems and components. Our staff supports the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Solar Advisor Model development activity by managing the software development and creating models specific to concentrating solar power systems and components.

Research staff have access to NREL's broad range of geographic information systems (GIS) capabilities. These capabilities allow NREL staff to assist the DOE's effort to support industry's near-term goal to deploy 1000 megawatts of concentrating solar power capacity in the southwestern United States. We use GIS analysis to identify economically viable locations for siting concentrating solar power systems, determined in part by the level of direct normal solar radiation, area topography, access to unconstrained transmission, and proximity to load centers.

Our NREL researchers use numerous simulation tools to support solar R&D activities. Examples of the use of these tools include analysis of complex optical configurations, design and simulation of high-temperature selective absorber coatings, and analysis of wind loads on solar collectors.

Learn more about our modeling and analysis capabilities.

Developing Advanced Components and Technologies

Long-term research and development is an essential element for cost reduction, improved reliability, and improved performance of technologies currently supported by the solar program. NREL's long-term R&D activities include the development of advanced optical materials, and advanced thermal storage and heat transfer fluids.

Exploration of advanced components and technologies also provide a means for expanding markets for concentrating solar power technologies. We support the analysis and development of components for concentrating photovoltaics and solar hydrogen systems. NREL supports these activities at its solar test facility, the High-Flux Solar Furnace, located on top of South Table Mesa in Golden, Colorado.