NREL effort aims to cut the cost of CSP technology by focusing on heliogens

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Sandia National Laboratories, along with the Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute, launched a Heliostat Consortium (HelioCon), an international effort to drive down the cost of heliostats.

Heliostats are a key component of concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technologies. NREL said that CSP with low-cost thermal energy storage can be used either to produce dispatchable electricity or provide high-temperature heat to industries like cement, steel, and chemical production that are otherwise hard to decarbonize.

Heliostats track the sun in order to reflect sunlight to a receiver, where it can be stored as heat for long duration energy storage and converted into electricity. There can be more than 10,000 heliostats in a single CSP plant, representing 30%–50% of the cost of system construction, NREL said. The mirrors represent a primary driver of operations and maintenance costs.

DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) is working to lower heliostat costs, with a target of $50 per square meter, to reach a goal of $0.05/kWh for next-generation CSP plants, which incorporate thermal energy storage.

HelioCon will develop standards, metrology, techno-economic analysis, and field deployment technologies to address heliostat costs. In addition, it seeks to increase domestic manufacturing of solar technologies and to bring more professionals into clean energy careers. 

Earlier in December, the U.S. Department of Energy finalized a $39 million award to Heliogen, Inc. for the California-based company to roll out its artificial intelligence-powered solar technology.

Heliogen will build and operate a supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) power cycle integrated with thermal energy storage, heated by concentrated solar thermal energy supplied by an AI-powered heliostat field. The company said this process will generate higher temperatures than traditional solar to enable a more efficient and cost-effective power cycle. The DOE and Heliogen said it will serve as a test site for the commercialization of low-cost solar plants.

Heliogen Founder and CEO, Bill Gross said the DOE award “adds momentum to deployment” of the company’s concentrated solar solution for carbon-free energy at scale.”