Research and development (R&D) capabilities in concentrating solar power (CSP) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) span the entire electricity system—from generation to transmission and distribution to the end user. NREL scientists and engineers pursue R&D and provide assistance in the following four areas.
Optical, thermal, and containment materials are critical to CSP systems, and their performance directly affects system-wide cost and efficiency. NREL researchers, often in collaboration with industry partners, develop CSP optical materials designed to meet stringent performance and durability targets. Our high-temperature heat-transfer fluid and storage materials laboratories are designed to investigate advanced concepts for heat transfer, thermal energy storage, and corrosion-resistant materials.
NREL scientists characterize the performance and durability of reflector and absorber materials, high-temperature heat-transfer and storage materials, collectors, and receivers. For example, they study heat loss as a function of temperature to determine thermal performance of receiver tubes, measure reflectance and durability of mirrors to characterize optical performance, and characterize the thermo-physical properties of high-temperature heat transfer and thermal storage materials.
Our researchers use a variety of field characterization techniques and tools to test the performance of systems, pinpoint areas of inefficiency, and help improve the design and performance of CSP collector and receiver components.
Engineers and analysts develop and use software tools to facilitate site selection, optimize system design, evaluate cost and performance of CSP systems, and examine the value in terms of costs and benefits of CSP integration into the power grid. Advanced modeling techniques and data collection methods help NREL analysts determine the best locations for CSP plants, based on solar irradiance, as well as economic, social, and environmental factors.