News Release: NREL Launches New International Consortium To Advance High-Tech Mirrors Used in Solar Plants

Researchers Seek To Lower Cost of Heliostats 50% and Jump-Start Manufacturing in the United States

Dec. 20, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), joined by our partners at Sandia National Laboratories and the Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute, announces the launch of the Heliostat Consortium (HelioCon), an international effort to drive down the cost of heliostats.

HelioCon, led by NREL, emphasizes the significance of heliostats as a key component of concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technologies. CSP with low-cost thermal energy storage can be used either to produce dispatchable electricity or provide high-temperature heat to difficult-to-decarbonize industries, like cement, steel, and chemical production.

Heliostats track the sun in order to reflect sunlight to a receiver, where it can be stored as heat for long duration energy storage and converted into electricity. There can be more than 10,000 heliostats in a single CSP plant, representing 30%–50% of the cost of system construction and a primary driver of operations and maintenance costs.

DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) is working to lower heliostat costs, with a target of $50 per square meter, to reach its goal of $0.05 per kilowatt-hour for next-generation CSP plants, which incorporate thermal energy storage.

HelioCon will leverage the expertise of researchers from national laboratories, industry, and other research institutions across the globe.

“The Heliostat Consortium will be a collective powerhouse that centralizes U.S. efforts to develop advanced heliostat technology,” said Guangdong Zhu, HelioCon director and NREL senior researcher. “It will also leverage international expertise toward achieving DOE’s aggressive goals.”

As part of the strategic roadmap, HelioCon will develop standards, metrology, techno-economic analysis, and field deployment technologies to address heliostat costs. In addition, it seeks to increase domestic manufacturing of solar technologies and to bring more professionals into clean energy careers.

“Low-cost CSP can help us achieve a net-zero energy sector,” said Avi Shultz, SETO CSP program manager. “CSP’s ability to directly generate high temperatures at low cost will directly address many industrial applications whose emissions can’t be easily reduced with other technologies or electrified.”

In support of these goals, HelioCon is actively seeking to broaden the community working on this technology through its industry board of advisors and future requests for proposals, which will engage new leaders in this area.

“With its collaborative, industry-focused structure, the Heliostat Consortium will provide a clear roadmap for the industry,” said Johney Green, NREL’s associate laboratory director for Mechanical and Thermal Engineering Sciences. “Key efforts like HelioCon will help ensure we move the country toward an equitable clean energy economy and a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”  

HelioCon is funded by SETO. Learn more about the office’s CSP and heliostat research.

Visit the NREL CSP and the Sandia CSP websites to learn more about other research projects.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.