Life Cycle Assessment of a Parabolic Trough Concentrating Solar Power Plant and the Impacts of Key Design Alternatives

John J. Burkhardt, Garvin A. Heath, Craig S. Turchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

187 Scopus Citations


Climate change and water scarcity are important issues for today's power sector. To inform capacity expansion decisions, hybrid life cycle assessment is used to evaluate a reference design of a parabolic trough concentrating solar power (CSP) facility located in Daggett, CA, along four sustainability metrics: life cycle (LC) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water consumption, cumulative energy demand (CED), and energy payback time (EPBT). This wet-cooled, 103 MW plant utilizes mined nitrates salts in its two-tank, thermal energy storage (TES) system. Design alternatives of dry-cooling, a thermocline TES, and synthetically derived nitrate salt are evaluated. During its LC, the reference CSP plant is estimated to emit 26 g of CO 2eq per kWh, consume 4.7 L/kWh of water, and demand 0.40 MJeq/ kWh of energy, resulting in an EPBT of approximately 1 year. The dry-cooled alternative is estimated to reduce LC water consumption by 77% but increase LC GHG emissions and CED by 8%. Synthetic nitrate salts may increase LC GHG emissions by 52% compared to mined. Switching from two-tank to thermocline TES configuration reduces LC GHG emissions, most significantly for plants using synthetically derived nitrate salts. CSP can significantly reduce GHG emissions compared to fossilfueled generation; however, dry-cooling may be required in many locations to minimize water consumption.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2457-2464
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2011

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-48892


  • concentrating solar power (CSP)
  • design analysis
  • greenhouse gas
  • parabolic trough


Dive into the research topics of 'Life Cycle Assessment of a Parabolic Trough Concentrating Solar Power Plant and the Impacts of Key Design Alternatives'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this