Concentrating solar power emerging

Developments for the SunShot Initiative are underway to reduce the cost of energy systems and make the technology more robust for future users.


ISS SourceSolar energy is feasible and the potential benefits can be staggering, however, the costs remain a barrier to full adoption.

There are now two solar energy goals: Make the technology cost efficient and make the technology more robust.

That is where Ranga Pitchumani, the John R. Jones III Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech, comes in.

Pitchumani is working toward achieving the goal set out in February 2011 in U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s Dept. of Energy SunShot Initiative. Its objective was to reduce the installed cost of solar energy systems by about 75% in order to allow widespread, large-scale adoption of this renewable clean energy technology.

Following the initiative, Pitchumani started directing the Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) program for the SunShot Initiative.

“The SunShot goal is to get solar energy technologies to achieve cost-parity with other energy generation sources on the grid without subsidy by the year 2020. That’s an aggressive mission that calls for several subcomponent innovations and ingenious system designs to drive costs down, while improving efficiencies,” Pitchumani said.

“Concentrating solar power technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight to produce heat, which can then be used to produce electricity,” Pitchumani said. These technologies present a distinct advantage over photovoltaic (PV) cells in their ability to store the sun’s energy as thermal energy, and represent a subset of the SunShot Initiative.

Pitchumani and his research group at Virginia Tech developed novel thermal energy storage technologies for concentrating solar power applications.

“Fossil fueled power plants pose a potential risk to the environment through an increased carbon footprint, and my efforts are in supplanting fossil energy with renewable sources including solar energy,” Pitchumani said. “Concentrating solar power plants capture the solar energy and store it as heat, which can, in turn, be used to drive a turbine and produce electricity. In fact, studies have shown that CSP with thermal energy storage also facilitates greater incorporation of other renewables such as wind and photovoltaic on the grid. That’s a win-win on all fronts,” Pitchumani said.

“Due to the intermittent nature of solar energy availability, it is often desirable to store thermal energy from a concentrating solar power plant for use on demand, including at times when solar energy is unavailable such as during cloud cover or overnight. Energy can be stored either as sensible heat (in solid or molten media), latent heat (using phase change materials), or as products of a thermochemical process, of which latent heat and thermochemical storage offer high volumetric energy density and potentially high power cycle efficiency, provided costs can be tamed,” he said.

In his role, Pitchumani oversees a team of several program managers, technical, financial and support personnel, who actively manage the awards in the portfolio. During his leadership, the SunShot Concentrating Solar Power Program launched over $130 million in new funding initiatives since October 2011.

Concentrating solar power plants could provide for low-cost energy generation and have the potential to become the leading source of renewable energy for future power generation. In the U.S., several large-scale commercial plants (e.g., Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station (SEGS), Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, and Abengoa Solana Generating Station) are currently under construction, with some getting ready to fire up in a few months, that would more than triple the total capacity of Concentrating Solar Power-generated electricity to about 1.8 GW and place the U.S. as one of the global leaders in CSP capacity.

On a worldwide scale, studies suggest concentrating solar power technology systems could provide approximately one-quarter of the global electricity needs by 2050, Pitchumani said.

JACKIE , TX, United States, 05/08/13 10:55 PM:

The idea of thorium nuclear plants which bombard thorium with neutron, resulting in nuclear material similar to unranium nuclear 235 usable in nuclear power plants, a more likely power supply than any other potential grid supplier. I find it difficult to comprehend making decisions to opt for wind and solar without any real economic justification study, Wind and solar have applications for energy supply in human domains of power usage, but grid demands is not probable in the real scientific demand when matters of scale are applied to any imagined economical justification.
Making decisions without access to the variables is one thing, but, allowing a pseudo electorate forcing these decisions on america is in my personal perspective, is treasonous.
Watching our nation lose our independence with political acts of free trade (slavery) permitting a country to enslave its citizens, use free trade as an economic weapon to destroy a free world where human rights are protected by work agreements reveals a nation under occupation by a power not representing our peoples---exporting our manufacturing infrastructure while shuttering small business sector, while empowering tyrannical nations bent on our demise is a sad element of society to witness---However I see a future of impending confrontations between our nations citizens and the power occupying our nation, who are incapable of any real successful long term response from our youths rise to anarchy, which is continuing exponentially, I have hope of our nation restoring customs and duty, causing importers to pay the same accrued taxation as domestic business, which will resurrect our nations freedom to do the things we deem logical-ethical, while increasing our quality of life, without interference from international commercial criminility
JACKIE , TX, United States, 05/08/13 11:07 PM:

An increasing study of solar power which has its place in isolated needs of electricity is required to develop any real economical justification for solar power to be of any real significance used to supply our grids demand for electricity in our current nation, however time changes all things, our future as a nation and current quality of life is in the downsizing mode as slavery is restored in our nation by the trading and financial magnate clan through the guise of free trade
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