Over the past 40 years, scientists at Sandia National Laboratories’ National Solar Thermal Test Facility at Kirtland AFB have been developing concentrating solar power technology, which uses sunlight to generate heat rather than directly converting it into electricity. The latest iteration of the technology uses sunlight to heat salt; the melted salt then is used to heat water into steam, reports the Albuquerque Journal. One of the primary advantages of concentrating solar power is its ability to store the heated liquid inside insulated containers for use at night. Scientists at Sandia are trying to reduce the cost of the technology, which currently costs around 9 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour; the goal is to reach 6 cents.
The test facility recently was awarded $10 million by the Department of Energy to refine a newer concentrating solar power technology — a high-temperature falling particle receiver. Sandia and its partners will attempt to build an integrated system that can efficiently receive solar heat and deliver it to a working fluid at greater than 700°C, while incorporating thermal energy storage. Current commercially available technologies only reach 565°C.
Albuquerque Journal photo by Jim Thompson