Skip navigation to main content.
NREL - National Renewable Energy Laboratory
About NRELEnergy AnalysisScience and TechnologyTechnology TransferTechnology DeploymentEnergy Systems Integration

Energy 101: Concentrating Solar Power (Text Version)

Below is the text version for the Energy 101: Concentrating Solar Power video.

The video opens with the words "Energy 101: Concentrating Solar Power."

OK. Take the natural heat from the sun, reflect it against a mirror, focus all of that heat on one area, send it through a power system, and you've got a renewable way of making electricity. It's called concentrating solar power, or CSP.

Caption: Concentrating Solar Power (CSP): Focuses the sun's heat to make steam and electricity.

Now, there are many types of CSP technologies. Towers, dishes, linear mirrors, and troughs.

The video goes through a quick panorama of several different types, and several different views, of all of the different types of CSP. Finally, it settles on a long CSP trough, pointed toward the sun.

Have a look at this parabolic trough system. Parabolic troughs are large mirrors shaped like a giant "U." These troughs are connected together in long lines and will track the sun throughout the day.

Image of the trough tilting to follow the sun.

When the sun's heat is reflected off the mirror, the curved shape sends most of that reflected heat onto a receiver.

The receiver tube is filled a fluid. It could be oil, molten salt… something that holds the heat well.

Basically, this super hot liquid heats water in this thing called a heat exchanger and the water turns to steam. The steam is sent off to a turbine, and from there, it's business as usual inside a power plant. A steam turbine spins a generator and the generator makes electricity.

Once the fluid transfers it heat, it's recycled and used over and over. And the steam is also cooled, condensed and recycled again and again.

One big advantage of these trough systems is that the heated fluid can be stored and used later to keep making electricity when the sun isn't shining.

Sunny skies and hot temperatures make the southwest U.S. an ideal place for these kinds of power plants. Many concentrated solar power plants could be built within the next several years. And a single plant can generate 250 megawatts or more, which is enough to power about 90,000 homes. That's a lot of electricity to meet America's power needs.

Caption: Energy 101: Concentrating Solar Power. For more information, visit www.eere.energy.gov, www.nrel.gov.