Electricity from the sun

Concentrated solar energy plants could supply a significant portion of future electricity needs, according to researchers at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, University of Maryland, and NASA. This result is based on an analysis of the interactions between concentrated solar power plants and the electrical grid.

Concentrated solar power plants use lenses or mirrors to focus a large area of sunlight into a small area. The concentrated light is converted to heat that, in turn, drives an engine connected to an electrical generator. These plants hold a promise of clean, domestic power around the world. Global use of this technology is projected to grow substantially in the near future with numerous plants under construction worldwide.

The potential of solar power technologies is difficult to evaluate, however, because the energy-economic models used to inform decision-makers are not designed to simulate variable renewable resources. The results of this study can be used to produce more realistic estimates of their potential contribution.

This work was supported by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, DOE’s Office of Science, the California Energy Commission, and others.