Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a receiver, which collects and transfers the solar energy to a heat transfer fluid that can be used to supply heat for end-use applications or to generate electricity through conventional steam turbines.
Large CSP plants can be equipped with a heat storage system to allow for heat supply or electricity generation at night or when the sky is cloudy.
There are four CSP plant variants, namely: Parabolic Trough, Fresnel Reflector, Solar Tower and Solar Dish, which differ depending on the design, configuration of mirrors and receivers, heat transfer fluid used and whether or not heat storage is involved. The first three types are used mostly for power plants in centralised electricity generation, with the parabolic trough system being the most commercially mature technology. Solar dishes are more suitable for distributed generation.
CSP plants require high direct solar irradiance to work and are therefore a very interesting option for installation in the Sun Belt region (between 40 degrees north and south of the equator).
This region includes the Middle East, North Africa, South Africa, India, the Southwest of the United States, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Western China, Australia, southern Europe and Turkey.
The technical potential of CSP-based electricity generation in most of these regions is typically many times higher than their electricity demand, resulting in opportunities for electricity export through high-voltage lines.
However, the deployment of CSP is still at an early stage with approximately 3 GW of installed capacity worldwide up to 2013, although an additional 12 GW of capacity is planned for installation by 2015.