Alcoa Getting Into The Concentrating Solar Power Game

Alcoa announced last week testing of its advanced solar technology with the goal of making Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) competitive in the United States by lowering its cost to generate energy.

In a joint project with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the two recently installed a new Alcoa-designed Concentrating Solar Power parabolic trough at NREL’s test facility in Golden, Colorado. The testing will measure the collector’s efficiency to generate energy and evaluate its structural performance.

Commercial Concentrating Solar Power systems usually use glass mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers, using the heat created to produce utility scale electricity via a steam turbine.

One of the benefits of Concentrating Solar Power technology for utility scale applications is thermal energy can be stored and drawn upon cloudy periods and at night, providing better grid stability and increased capacity factors compared to solar panel applications that currently require costly deep cycle battery storage.

Instead of glass mirrors, the new Alcoa technology uses highly-reflective aluminium mirrors, which the company says are more robust and environmentally-friendly than fragile glass-based mirrors. Alcoa points out that the aluminium can be infinitely recycled.

Alcoa says its design enables high-volume manufacturing techniques to lower installation costs and offers a simple “drop-in-place” collector solution for easy installation. The Alcoa design includes sheet, extrusions and fasteners.

The project is being partially funded by a US$2.1 million Department of Energy grant. Test results are expected by the second quarter of 2010, after which the system will enter its next level of large-scale testing.