MIT team of researchers is working on a system that can supply 24 hours of solar energy by designing a concentrated solar power (CSP) that would store heat in molten salts containers. Though this technology has been implemented before by Spanish company Torresol Energy through its “power tower” system, MIT is focusing on lowering the installation, operation, and maintenance costs. With extra costs saved, this system will effectively work to help small towns and communities switch themselves from the grid to clean energy.
Until recently, extensive implementation use of solar power suffered many setbacks because of the sun’s limited ability to supply the sunshine only for a few hours in a day. To supply solar energy round the clock a backup system is essential during nighttime or on cloudy days. However, according to an MIT News press release, this feat of delivering 24/7 solar power has been achieved by a team of researchers led by Alexander Slocum.
Concentrated solar power technology has been used previously when a large array of mirrors was used to concentrate sunlight on a tower. When combined with molten salt it would produce high energy which could then be used to generate steam from water that revolves a turbine to produce electricity. However, this setup involves expensive plumbing and pumps thus not making it commercially feasible. Also, they work only when the sun is shining.
Instead, the MIT team of researchers has developed a heavily insulated ground-mounted single tank that combines both heating and storage. The low rise system would significantly cut down plumbing and maintenance costs as the array mirrors would be positioned on a hillside above the tank concentrating sunlight on the narrow opening above the top achieving temperatures of more than 500°C. This method would be inexpensive to maintain over a long period of time compared to the other competitive system where sunlight is focused upwards to the tower. The tank would also act as a storage tank with a movable horizontal plate barrier separating heated salt from cold salt during the daytime.
The MIT team has carried out small-scale tests to test CSP’s performance but larger tests are essential to fully develop the power plant for commercial use. They hope to generate more than 500° C of temperature during operation of the tank which would be possible with a 20- to 100-kilowatt demonstration system.