US to fund aggressive technology that cuts solar power costs 75%

In 10 years, the Department of Energy wants to get to solar power costs down to 6¢/kWh from current 21¢/kWh

nasa sun shot
The US Department of Energy wants researchers and scientists to "think outside the box" and come up "highly disruptive Concentrating Solar Power technologies that will meet 6¢/kWh cost targets by the end of the decade."

The DOE's "SunShot Concentrating Solar Power R&D" is a multimillion dollar endeavor that intends to look beyond what it calls incremental near-term to support research into transformative technologies that will break through performance barriers known today such as efficiency and temperature limitations.

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The SunShot initiative expects researchers to demonstrate and prove new concepts in the solar collector, receiver, and power cycle subsystems, including associated hardware.  The DOE says the CSP realm is composed of a variety of technologies, which convert sunlight into thermal energy, and then use this thermal energy to generate electricity. 

There are four demonstrated types of CSP systems: collector field, receiver, thermal storage, and power block. All of involve converting sunlight into thermal energy for use in a heat-driven engine and all must be revolutionized if the cost of solar energy are to be reduced.  The DOE noted that the collector field technologies typically represent the largest single capital investment in a CSP plant and is typically composed of many individual collectors, and as such advanced manufacturing, assembly, and installation processes will be considered for Sunshot. 

"The overarching goal of the SunShot Initiative is reaching cost parity with baseload energy rates, estimated to be 6¢/kWh without economic support, which would pave the way for rapid and large-scale adoption of solar electricity across the United States.  SunShot aims to reduce the total costs of solar energy systems by about 75% by the end of the decade.  Beyond the technical goal of reducing total cost by 75%, the objectives of the SunShot Initiative are to boost the US economic competitiveness and manufacturing of solar technologies within the US," the DOE stated.  

SunShot-level cost reductions likely include an increase in system efficiency by moving to higher-temperature operation, such as  maximizing power-cycle efficiency without sacrificing efficiency elsewhere in the system (minimizing optical and thermal efficiency losses).  Likewise, reducing the cost of the solar field and developing high-temperature thermal energy storage compatible with high-efficiency, high-temperature power cycles are critical to driving costs down further, the DOE stated.

 The DOE cited a few examples of potential project areas for development:

  • Alternative or optimized collector support structures.
  • Novel materials for collector structures.
  • Low-cost drives and accurate controls.
  • Autonomous collector power and control.
  • Alternative receiver designs for high-temperature operation.
  • Novel receiver materials and selective coatings.
  • High-efficiency, high-temperature power cycles.
  • Innovative combined-cycle configurations.
  • High temperature heat exchangers compatible with advanced power cycles.
  • Advanced designs and materials for hardware (e.g. pumps, valves/packing, piping).
  • Highly automated collector field manufacturing facilities and equipment.
  • Rapid field installation and minimal site preparation techniques.
  • Novel CSP components and systems.

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