On the Path to SunShot: Advancing Concentrating Solar Power Technology, Performance, and Dispatchability

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


This report examines the remaining challenges to achieving the competitive concentrating solar power (CSP) costs and large-scale deployment envisioned under the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative. Although CSP costs continue to decline toward SunShot targets, CSP acceptance and deployment have been hindered by inexpensive photovoltaics (PV). However, a recent analysis found that thermal energy storage (TES) could increase CSP's value--based on combined operational and capacity benefits--by up to 6 cents/kWh compared to variable-generation PV, under a 40% renewable portfolio standard in California. Thus, the high grid value of CSP-TES must be considered when evaluating renewable energy options. An assessment of net system cost accounts for the difference between the costs of adding new generation and the avoided cost from displacing other resources providing the same level of energy and reliability. The net system costs of several CSP configurations are compared with the net system costs of conventional natural-gas-fired combustion-turbine (CT) and combined-cycle plants. At today's low natural gas prices and carbon emission costs, the economics suggest a peaking configuration for CSP. However, with high natural gas prices and emission costs, each of the CSP configurations compares favorably against the conventional alternatives, and systems with intermediate to high capacity factors become the preferred alternatives. Another analysis compares net system costs for three configurations of CSP versus PV with batteries and PV with CTs. Under current technology costs, the least-expensive option is a combination of PV and CTs. However, under future cost assumptions, the optimal configuration of CSP becomes the most cost-effective option.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages66
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

SAND2016-2237 R

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5500-65688


  • analysis
  • baseload
  • collector
  • concentrating solar power
  • cost
  • CSP
  • dish/engine
  • flexibility
  • Fresnel
  • grid
  • net system cost
  • peaker
  • power block
  • price
  • receiver
  • scenarios
  • soft costs
  • solar
  • SunShot
  • thermal energy storage
  • tower
  • trough
  • value


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