The Potential Role of Concentrating Solar Power within the Context of DOE's 2030 Solar Cost Targets

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


To continue the momentum for cost reduction in solar technologies, DOE recently established 2030 cost targets for that would make solar one of the lowest-cost sources of new electricity in the United States. The potential impacts of achieving the 2030 cost targets for solar photovoltaics (PV) were recently explored in a related publication, which found significant potential for solar PV deployment and generation, particularly when coupled with low-cost storage. Building on this previous report, the present analysis evaluates the potential impacts of simultaneously achieving the 2030 cost targets for both PV and concentrating solar power with thermal energy storage (CSP-TES) systems in the contiguous United States, with a detailed evaluation of the role that CSP-TES plays in realizing those impacts. The evolution of the contiguous U.S. electricity system is evaluated with NREL's Renewable Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) model, which has been specifically designed to represent the time and locational value of renewable generation technologies in the U.S. power system. This analysis suggests achievement of the SunShot cost targets for CSP-TES might lead to dramatic growth in CSP-TES capacity, with accelerated deployment after the 2030 target is achieved. Based on our representation of the 2030 cost targets in ReEDS, economically-competitive CSP-TES could primarily be deployed in a dispatch able, high-capacity factor configuration, which allows it to provide valuable services to the power sector and results in a generation profile for CSP-TES that is complementary to that of variable PV. Aggressive cost reductions for CSP-TES could also make such a configuration economically competitive across the contiguous United States, which is a a result that warrants additional analysis in terms of potential siting, permitting, regulatory, and construction challenges in these new regions and markets. The modeled capacity expansion of both CSP-TES and PV in our scenarios that achieve the 2030 cost targets requires most growth in transmission capacity at a pace that is consistent with historical buildout rates, and could result in reduced electricity prices and power system costs, water usage, and air emissions. Finally, sensitivity analysis suggests that the cumulative capacity and geographic extent of CSP-TES deployment in our low-cost solar scenarios is highly sensitive to the post-2030 cost reductions for CSP-TES and future price of natural gas, and that significant competition exists among renewable energy and energy storage technologies, assuming aggressive cost reductions for each. For example, significant competition between CSP-TES and PV with battery storage indicates the similar role that these systems play in capacity planning and grid operations, as well as the fact that low-cost battery storage would help improve the capacity value of low-cost PV into the future.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages137
StatePublished - 2019

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-71912


  • capacity expansion
  • concentrating solar power
  • CSP
  • ReEDS
  • SunShot


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