Thermal Energy Storage for Solar Power Production

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WIREs Energy and Environment





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Solar energy is the most abundant persistent energy resource. It is also an intermittent one available for only a fraction of each day while the demand for electric power never ceases. To produce a significant amount of power at the utility scale, electricity generated from solar energy must be dispatchable and able to be supplied in response to variations in demand. This requires energy storage that serves to decouple the intermittent solar resource from the load and enables around-the-clock power production from solar energy. Practically, solar energy storage technologies must be efficient as any energy loss results in an increase in the amount of required collection hardware, the largest cost in a solar electric power system. Storing solar energy as heat has been shown to be an efficient, scalable, and relatively low-cost approach to providing dispatchable solar electricity. Concentrating solar power systems that include thermal energy storage (TES) use mirrors to focus sunlight onto a heat exchanger where it is converted to thermal energy that is carried away by a heat transfer fluid and used to drive a conventional thermal power cycle (e.g., steam power plant), or stored for later use. Several approaches to TES have been developed and can generally be categorized as either thermophysical (wherein energy is stored in a hot fluid or solid medium or by causing a phase change that can later be reversed to release heat) or thermochemical (in which energy is stored in chemical bonds requiring two or more reversible chemical reactions).

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