Review and Future Perspective of Central Receiver Design and Performance

Guangdong Zhu, Cara Libby

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

23 Scopus Citations


Concentrating solar power (CSP) technology provides a commercial solar option to the utility-scale electricity market. CSP is unique in its ability to include low-cost thermal storage; thus, it can generate electricity when the sun is not available and dispatch electricity to meet varying load requirements. Within the suite of CSP technologies, the central receiver design represents the state-of-the-art technology, promising low cost, high performance, and dispatchable energy production. Current total capacity of central receiver plants worldwide is about 1.0 gigawatt (electric) with operating plants in Spain and the United States, as well as projects under construction in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Central receiver technology has been under development since the 1950s, and a variety of central receiver designs have been explored. A distinguishing feature is the heat transfer medium. Central receiver designs exist that use dense fluids, gases, and solid particles in this role. Water/steam and molten salt receivers have been adopted in current commercial plants and are often coupled with a steam-Rankine power cycle with an operating temperature of less than 600°C. Many new central receiver concepts, such as the volumetric air, supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2), solid particle, and liquid-metal receiver designs, are under active research and development (R&D). New designs target operating temperatures generally higher than 700°C-800°C - and even above 1000°C - so that higher-performance power cycles such as the sCO2-Brayton cycle or air-Brayton/steam-Rankine combined cycle can be used to promote greater overall system efficiency. Central receiver thermal storage provides dispatchability unavailable from variable-output renewables such as solar photovoltaic and wind power. Case study analysis of the California grid shows that there is a limit on the amount of non-dispatchable renewable generation that the grid can accommodate, beyond which overgeneration, spillage, and instability may occur. Energy storage may well become a necessity in some areas in order to maintain reliability. Next-generation central receiver technologies will have higher operating temperatures and additional features that allow higher-efficiency power generation and deliver other cost-performance advantages. The underlying innovations will come from areas such as multi-physics modeling, high-temperature materials, novel power cycles and heat exchanger designs, and collector field sensing and performance monitoring technologies. Technology innovation is expected to improve the cost and performance of central receiver designs. To deliver value as a generation and storage option, central receiver technology must also be supported by flexible and robust financial models and comprehensive energy and ancillary service markets justifying the capital-intensive investment. Progress in these areas will position CSP central receiver technology for future deployment.

Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages8
StatePublished - 27 Jun 2017
Event22nd International Conference on Concentrating Solar Power and Chemical Energy Systems, SolarPACES 2016 - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Duration: 11 Oct 201614 Oct 2016


Conference22nd International Conference on Concentrating Solar Power and Chemical Energy Systems, SolarPACES 2016
Country/TerritoryUnited Arab Emirates
CityAbu Dhabi

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Author(s).

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5500-66781


  • concentrating solar power
  • CSP
  • storage
  • thermal energy storage


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