Energy storage advance readies concentrated solar power for the smart grid
The intermittent nature of renewable energy sources is a huge burden on the power grid, making flexible and economical energy storage an essential step to a greener future. Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of Florida have now devised a way to conveniently store and release energy harvested through concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, improving on the cost and energy density of previous systems and preparing this technology for the smart grid.
While standard solar panels convert sunlight directly into electricity, concentrated solar power plants focus an array of mirrors onto a solar receiver and use the resulting heat to drive an electricity-generating steam turbine. These systems tend to be low-cost, safe, long lasting and highly efficient, but they must be coupled to powerful and flexible energy storage to work at full effect.
Current systems that store energy from CSP power plants are too bulky and expensive to be practical, but a promising new approach known as thermochemical energy storage (TCES) holds the promise of a ten-fold increase in energy storage density at a fraction of the cost. This technology works similarly to a normal battery, except the chemical reactions that drive it are designed to absorb or release large quantities of heat with each charge and discharge cycle.
In a move that could pave the way for CSP to play a larger role within the smart grid, Nick AuYeng and the OSU team have now devised a high-performance TCES system that is about as energy-dense as a lithium-ion battery and only relies on commonplace, environmentally friendly, nonflammable materials.