Solar thermoelectricity via advanced latent heat storage: A cost-effective small-scale CSP application

Publication Date



AIP Conference Proceedings



First Page



Mechanical Engineering


We are developing a novel concentrating solar electricity-generating technology that is both modular and dispatchable. Solar ThermoElectricity via Advanced Latent heat Storage (STEALS) uses concentrated solar flux to generate high-temperature thermal energy, which directly converts to electricity via thermoelectric generators (TEGs), stored within a phase-change material (PCM) for electricity generation at a later time, or both allowing for simultaneous charging of the PCM and electricity generation. STEALS has inherent features that drive its cost-competitive scale to be much smaller than current commercial concentrating solar power (CSP) plants. Most obvious is modularity of the solidstate TEG, which favors smaller scales in the kilowatt range as compared to CSP steam turbines, which are minimally 50 MWe for commercial power plants. Here, we present techno-economic and market analyses that show STEALS can be a cost-effective electricity-generating technology with particular appeal to small-scale microgrid applications. We evaluated levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for STEALS and for a comparable photovoltaic (PV) system with battery storage. For STEALS, we estimated capital costs and the LCOE as functions of the type of PCM including the use of recycled aluminum alloys, and evaluated the cost tradeoffs between plasma spray coatings and solution-based boron coatings that are applied to the wetted surfaces of the PCM subsystem. We developed a probabilistic cost model that accounts for uncertainties in the cost and performance inputs to the LCOE estimation. Our probabilistic model estimated LCOE for a 100-kWe STEALS system that had 5 hours of thermal storage and 8–10 hours of total daily power generation. For these cases, the solar multiple for the heliostat field varied between 1.12 and 1.5. We identified microgrids as a likely market for the STEALS system. We characterized microgrid markets in terms of nominal power, dispatchability, geographic location, and customer type, and specified additional features for STEALS that are needed to meet the needs of this growing power market.