When people talk about solar power, they usually are referring to the photovoltaic type. But there’s another type of solar power and it’s starting to gain some ground over its photovoltaic power. This is concentrated solar power, or CSP solar energy, which is the solar energy that’s generated when one concentrates sunlight onto a small area in order to create heat. CSP creates a high intensity of light and heat that can in turn be used to create power and electricity.
One of the the biggest differences between CSP and PV is that concentrated solar power utilizes reflectors, such as mirrors, to focus sunlight onto a specific area. Photovoltaic systems avoid using reflective materials because they can decrease their absorption.
The concept of concentrated solar power can be demonstrated with a magnifying glass. When one concentrates sunlight through a lens onto a small area, one creates heat strong enough to light a fire or even burn through steal. You might have played with this when you were a child, to burn leaves and the like. But with a CSP system, one is focusing sunlight to heat transfer fluids. Once the transfer fluids are heated, they turn into steam, which is siphoned towards a turbine. The turbine will turns and generates electricity.
Heat transfer fluids are vital part of any CSP plant. Without them, the plant would not produce any energy no matter how clear the weather.
Significant improvements on this technology have been seen in this during the past years. Dow Chemical Company, one of the leading suppliers of heat transfer fluid in the world, has announced the launch of Dowtherm. The company has now produced enough Dowtherm to produce more than 500 megawatts of energy from concentrated solar power plants across the globe.
One advantage concentrated solar power has is that it is compatible with the conventional power generators that are used in today’s power plants. It is feasible to convert coal and oil power into CSP plants. There’s no need to build new facilities fully from the ground up. Old facilities can be retrofitted to be run by CSP.
Concentrated solar power plants have been used to generate energy in the United States for the past fifteen years. But it is only recently that more attention has been focused on their use. Studies show that they are far cheaper for the production of electricity using. And costs will continue to go down as research and development of this technology progresses.
With utilities urged by the federal government to find methods of generating energy from sustainable sources, we can expect that more CSP power plants will be built, along with clean energy plants using other alternative energy sources, such as photovoltaic solar power, wind, and biomass.