EME 812
Utility Solar Power and Concentration




In this lesson, we overview various Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technologies, with emphasis on those that have been proved effective supplying utility scale power. The most well-known ones are parabolic trough systems, parabolic dishes, and 3D central receiver systems, such as solar power tower. The main purpose of a CSP technology is to convert solar radiation into thermal energy, which is in turn used to drive a heat engine. CSP plants have been commercialized and operate in a number of countries as part of power infrastructure. According to Renewable Energy World, the current global power generated by CSP exceeds 1095 MW. It is definitely a growing industry which works towards cost-effective solutions with renewable power, and may possibly become a major player in electricity generation in the U.S. over the following decades.

Here we also review different types of power conversion cycles that are used for conversion of solar thermal energy to mechanical energy of the turbine. Such cycles are also called heat engines. They are crucial elements of any thermal plants, because in most cases mechanical energy or electrical energy are more practical than thermal energy. In this lesson, you will explore the principles and differences between several power conversion cycles and their varieties. One key question to answer will be which type of cycle would be suitable for a particular type of solar thermal plant and which parameters should be considered in that decision.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  1. Describe the principle of operation of the most important CSP technologies;
  2. Apply performance metrics to characterize the utility scale CSP systems;
  3. Understand the purpose and design of power conversion cycles;
  4. Justify the choice of power conversion cycle based on solar system parameters and goals.


Book: Lovegrove, K., Stein W., Concentrating Solar Power Technology, Woodhead Publishing, 2012.

Book chapter: Stine, W.B. and Harrigan, R.W., Power from the SunChapter 12 Power Cycles for Electricity Generation, 2001.

Book chapter: Duffie, J.A. and Beckman, W.A., Solar Engineering of Thermal Processes, Chapter 17: Solar Thermal Power Systems, pp. 621-633, Wiley 2013.