Improved Solar Thermal Energy Storage Could Replace Coal Plants

New South Wales, Australia, reached a record high and more efficient critical milestone temperature of 803 °C for concentrated solar thermal energy storage.

Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight, converting it to heat, which can then be stored or used to generate electricity.

Heated ceramic particles act like a battery, storing energy as heat, for up to 15 hours. As the particles cool, they release this energy. They could provide power whenever it’s needed, even at night and during periods of low solar and wind output.

Traditional CSTs are limited by the heat transfer fluids they use. Common fluids, like molten salt or high-temperature oil, can only handle up to 600°C and 400°C, respectively.

However, the ceramic particles the team is working with can endure temperatures over 1000°C. These particles not only absorb the sun’s heat but also store it, simplifying the system and reducing costs.

The ‘falling’ part of this method uses gravity to heat these tiny, dark-hued ceramic particles. Each particle is less than half a millimetre in size. The particles are dropped from a hopper at the top of the tower, and heated as they pass through focused solar energy. In a shortfall, their temperature can shoot from 500°C to 800°C, and with more advanced setups, possibly over 1000°C.

Unlike traditional methods that rely on steel tubes, the particles fall freely. This approach avoids the heat limitations of steel. Once heated, they’re stored in a silo. When needed, they’re used to produce steam for power generation or other industrial tasks.

CST takes energy from the sun, stores it and then allows the user to use that energy when the sun isn’t shining, such as overnight or on cloudy days.

CSIRO’s pilot system in Newcastle has 400 mirrors. However, a full-scale one might use over 10,000 larger mirrors. These can generate power similar to a 100 MW coal plant.

“The challenge isn’t so much collecting energy from the sun; it’s how to safely and efficiently convert that energy into heat and store it for later use,” researcher Wes Stein said. “The power generation from CST technology resembles a coal-fired power plant without the coal. It uses the same turbine. Typical coal-fired power plants use a steam turbine that operates at 540 degrees. Instead of using coal to create the heat to superheat the steam, we capture energy from the sun and store it for 10 to 15 hours.”

A global roundup reports 6460 megawatts of CST projects currently operational in 18 different countries, with another 3859 MW of projects under construction.

28 thoughts on “Improved Solar Thermal Energy Storage Could Replace Coal Plants”

  1. (1) how many acres would 10,000 mirrors require?

    (2) how much would it cost to install the mirrors and the collector/hopper?

    (3) how many cycles do the ceramic particles last?

    (4) how quickly do the mirrors degrade?

    (5) what is the cost/benefit of this system versus solar pv panels with ample storage with megapacks?

    (6) cost per Kwh of each project over a 30-year period…

        • Gaia will never be happy until humans are gone and nature is returned to its natural state of brutal savagery.

          Which when you think about it makes Gaia the bad guy.

            • Well of course. There has always ever been only one ‘true’ political socio-economic dichotomy: You either want a Great World or you want a Fair World. The venn-diagram overlap of these 2 positions is so minimal and the conseqeunces of picking a side are so stark that it dictates every large-scale policy decision everywhere. That being said, continual push along the Great World system does lead to some trickle-down that allows for more of a Fair World; but the continued redistribution needed in a Fair World does reduce the likelihood of Great World. Solar and Wind are Fair World policies, fraught with compromise and mediocrity.

  2. For those who are wondering about the location, INewcastle is no where near any desert, averaging 89 clear days a year.

  3. Coal may still supply fossils an elements for electronics.

    I hope the next time someone utters “learn to code” he gets punched.

  4. “However, a full-scale one might use over 10,000 larger mirrors. These can generate power similar to a 100 MW coal plant.”

    Oh I stand corrected. 10,000 mirrors to replace a 100MW coal plant. Totally workable and definitely the future!

      • I live not far from a 2.5GW nuclear plant. Consistent power, and the lake is a popular winter scuba site, since it doesn’t get cold.

        • The newer of the 3 units at our site, first online in ’84, has had 11 outages in 3 years… The plants can be nightmares while still returning capacity factors in the 90s% and looking good on paper.

  5. There are lots of different claptrap ways not to use nuclear power, for sure…. focusing reflected solar energy on the sand in the neck of an hourglass is cute, little, fussy, concept that’ll surely make this intermittent energy source even more so.

    • It’s not a terrible idea, if deployed someplace where the weather is good almost all the time. It at least has built in storage, unlike solar panels.

      Somewhat like the way there are actually places where windmills start to make sense. Just not a lot of them.

      But, yeah, just like windmills, they’ll insist on deploying it where it doesn’t make sense.

      • 1. Do you realize that was a pilot plant, to test the now outdated technology, just like the one built on the border just outside of Vegas?
        2. It can’t compete with increasingly cheaper standard photovoltaic fields.

        In reference to #2, have you driven by the location(s) lately? What do you see on the ground surrounding the concentrated solar set up? A few thousand acres of photovoltaic panels. This is what works. This is where all future investment is going.

        • “2. It can’t compete with increasingly cheaper standard photovoltaic fields. ”

          This is because of pathological features specifically designed into current electricity purchasing standards in order to pave the way for photovoltaics. Utilities are basically forbidden from taking reliability or dispatchability into account in making purchasing decisions, they have to buy, right now, whatever electricity is cheapest, right now.

          And never mind if it might randomly shut off five minutes from now, when a source 20% more expensive can be relied on to be available for the next year.

          So your baseline plant can be cruising along producing power, the sun comes out from behind a cloud over a photovoltaic field, and the utility is mandated to drop the baseline plant like a hot potato and buy the solar power, until the next cloud passes over.

          It’s a purchasing scheme from Hell, designed specifically to disadvantage reliable sources of power in favor of solar and wind.

          • Are you implying that, globally, which is where the proliferation of PV is exploding in use, is because “Utilities are basically forbidden from taking reliability or dispatchability into account in making purchasing decisions, they have to buy, right now, whatever electricity is cheapest, right now.” Sounds like one of those blanket conspiracy theories, instead of facing the realities of where everyone is investing their money.

            • Globally, there’s a massive level of group think going on right now among ruling elites. Global elites are virtue signaling to each other, and hardly even pretend to care what the people they’re ruling over think about what they’re doing. We saw that on display during the Covid policy disasters, where country after country ran their economies off a cliff with performative measures that hardly had any effect on the course of the pandemic.

              Perhaps it’s a natural consequence of modern information technology, there’s just too much bandwidth between countries for their governing elites to remain distinct.

        • Me: Concentrated Solar Power went bankrupt in sunny California despite being beloved by politicians and competing against some of the most expensive electricity in the USA.

          You: Oh yeah well if we talk about a completely different mechanism for harnessing the Sun’s rays then you will see that I am right!

          Me: But this is a thread about concentrated solar power and I am bringing up the failure of said devices to be economical.

          You: That’s not true solar power!

          Me: Sir, this is a Wendy’s

          • Also (if you are still here) I suppose the proof that CSP is a dead end technology that is doomed to do nothing more than produce a day’s headline would be what you pointed out: in California we surrounded the Tonopah CSP plant with photovoltaic panels instead of more mirrors.

            Thanks for making my point.

  6. Well, better, in that the storage is integrated. Still rather dependent on the weather, though. You’d want to limit these to areas where there’s hardly ever cloud cover.

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