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Techno-Economic Analysis

NREL's concentrating solar power (CSP) program measures and models the solar resource, develops and uses computer models for engineering design and modeling of system performance and technology deployment, and investigates the value and impacts of dispatchable utility-scale solar power to regional grid networks.

Two people looking at a data visualization projected on a screen

Systems Analysis

NREL systems analysis work provides timely and accurate cost data to assess the current state of CSP technologies and predict performance and costs for pre-commercial and emerging technologies that may impact the industry. This work includes:

  • Cost tracking
  • Bottom-up cost analysis for CSP plant components
  • Enhancements to System Advisor Model and other CSP modeling tools
  • International engagement
  • Supercritical CO2 power cycle modeling
  • Components and subsystem modeling.

For additional information on NREL systems analysis capabilities, contact Chad Augustine.

Technology Cost Reports and Roadmapping

We create technology cost reports and roadmaps that identify promising research paths to reduce overall CSP costs, such as the supercritical CO2 power cycle and next generation trough and tower systems. For more information, see Generation 3 Concentrating Solar Power Systems.

Real-Time Dispatch Optimization

NREL develops and uses solar plant operations optimization software, extending dispatch optimization and probabilistic forecasting techniques previously used for system design and annual simulation to near-term "real-time" solar power plant operations. Dispatch optimization automates complex operational decision-making processes, offering key advantages including:

  • Evaluating operational factors that are difficult for human operators to quantify
  • Creating a near-term planning horizon using optimal schedules
  • Reducing long-term maintenance costs and down-time
  • Streamlining operations costs that enable smaller modular plants
  • Promoting consistent and improved plant performance across the industry

For further information on our dispatch optimization capabilities for system design or real-time operations, contact Michael Wagner.

Maps/Geographical Information Systems

The Resource Information and Forecasting group provides the necessary solar data, satellite imagery, and GIS to help analysts and stakeholders better understand the feasibility of locating a CSP plant in a particular area.

Grid Optimization

A series of grid towers in front of a mountain landscape

CSP coupled with thermal energy storage (TES) offers a uniquely dispatchable renewable resource. Other renewable resources like solar photovoltaics and wind power are variable—they depend on the sun shining and the wind blowing. CSP-TES plants can even out the ebbs and flows of the solar resource by ramping up output from stored thermal energy at any time of day. These systems can also provide ancillary services and system inertia to benefit the grid.

NREL analysts measure these and other potential grid benefits using utility-scale production cost models such as PLEXOS. Areas of study include:

  • Leveraging CSP-TES to displace conventional forms of generation and minimize the cost of delivered electricity
  • Modeling impacts of CSP-TES on the western interconnection grid
  • Examining the role and impacts of CSP-TES in future grid scenarios and generation mixes
  • Investigating the role of pumped thermal electricity storage for storing grid energy

For further information on CSP grid optimization, contact Janna Martinek.

Grid Value Analysis

All of NREL's CSP research maintains a core focus on maximizing its value to the grid. As the penetration of renewables rises, so does the relative value of CSP due to its ability to generate during periods of peak demand, when coupled with thermal energy storage systems. Areas of our grid value analysis study include:

  • Analysis of the interaction between the capacity value of photovoltaics and CSP
  • Use of grid simulation tools to evaluate and identify enhancements to the operational benefits of CSP
  • Estimating the impact of renewable penetration and generation mix on storage value
  • Quantifying additional sources of potential value such as frequency response, regulating reserves, and other essential reliability services.

NREL's grid value analysis research leverages data and tools to examine potential deployment opportunities for CSP in regional power grids, such as NREL's Resource Planning Model and Regional Energy Deployment System Model (ReEDS). Additionally, the System Advisor Model is used to model operating CSP plants as they interact with the grid.

For further information on grid value analysis, contact Mark Mehos.