Real-Time Dispatch Optimization for Concentrating Solar Power with Thermal Energy Storage

John Cox, William Hamilton, Alexandra Newman, Michael Wagner, Alexander Zolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus Citations


Concentrating solar power (CSP) plants present a promising path towards utility-scale renewable energy. The power tower, or central receiver, configuration can achieve higher operating temperatures than other forms of CSP, and, like all forms of CSP, naturally pairs with comparatively inexpensive thermal energy storage, which allows CSP plants to dispatch electricity according to market price incentives and outside the hours of solar resource availability. Currently, CSP plants commonly include a steam Rankine power cycle and several heat exchange components to generate high-pressure steam using stored thermal energy. The efficiency of the steam Rankine cycle depends on the temperature of the plant’s operating fluid, and so is a main concern of plant operators. However, the variable nature of the solar resource and the conservatism with which the receiver is operated prevent perfect control over the receiver outlet temperature. Therefore, during periods of solar variability, collection occurs at lower-than-design temperature. To support operator decisions in a real-time setting, we develop a revenue-maximizing non-convex mixed-integer, quadradically-constrained program which determines a dispatch schedule with sub-hourly time fidelity and considers temperature-dependent power cycle efficiency. The exact nonlinear formulation proves intractable for real-time decision support. We present exact and inexact techniques to improve problem tractability that include a hybrid nonlinear and linear formulation. Our approach admits solutions within approximately 3% of optimality, on average, within a five-minute time limit, demonstrating its usability for decision support in a real-time setting.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)847-884
Number of pages38
JournalOptimization and Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5700-79757


  • Concentrating solar power
  • Dispatch optimization
  • Mixed-integer programming applications
  • Nonlinear programming
  • Real-time dispatch
  • Renewable energy


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