The research projects are divided into four key concentrating solar thermal (CST) technology areas or nodes. All the nodes will work with our United States partners, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories or Arizona State University.

Reducing capital expenditure

(reducing the cost of building solar thermal power plants)

We aim to reduce one of the biggest barriers to the uptake of large-scale solar thermal power stations – the cost of the power plant. We will develop a suite of improvements to the solar field, receiver and all the supporting components of the power plant. The reductions in cost will reduce the investment risk and make solar thermal power plants more attractive to industry and the investment sector. Financial modelling, system design and industry engagement will be key to our success in the first stages of the project. We will then progress to a small pilot scale demonstration power plant in partnership with industry.

Projects underway are:

  • Heliostat cost reduction
  • Receiver performance

 

Increasing the capacity factor

(increasing operation hours to sell more electricity to the grid)

A critical determinant in the levelised cost of energy of weather-dependant generators, such as solar thermal power stations, is the capacity factor or how many hours of the year the station can operate to produce electricity that can be sold into the grid. We aim to improve current capacity through the development of solar thermal energy storage or novel hybrid systems.

The initial projects underway are:

  • Reliable low-cost phase change material thermal storage systems for CST
  • Storage thermo-economic model

 

Improving efficiency

(producing more solar thermal power without increasing cost)

We aim to use CST to generate power at commercially competitive costs by utilising next-generation receivers and power block equipment and advanced air-cooled condenser technologies. These new technologies will be developed by the ASTRI team over the next four years in collaboration with US partners Sandia Labs, NREL, and the University of Texas in Austin. The supercritical carbon dioxide project outcome will be a new CST power generation concept that will be equally efficient and commercially competitive in both utility-scale power plants and standalone remote area applications.

The initial project underway is:

  • Solar supercritical carbon dioxide system development

 

Adding product value

(reducing the operating and maintenance costs of solar thermal power plants)

A major reduction in operation and maintenance costs may be achieved via improved efficiency for CST plant mirror cleaning. We aim to build better models for dust removal and to develop cost-effective mirror cleaning solutions. The initial projects underway are:

  • Mirror cleanliness and cleaning
  • Solar reactor development