SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant in Nevada is the first utility-scale facility in the world to use advanced molten salt receiver technology, which was developed with funding from the SunShot Initiative. The 110 megawatt power plant incorporates storage to power 75,000 homes, day or night.
The same visionary scientists responsible for pioneering space exploration are also behind a national effort to commercialize concentrating solar power (CSP) plants with integral energy storage. After years of research, testing, and validating the technology, in late 2015 scientists working on the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project (Crescent Dunes)—a Nevada-based CSP plant—successfully reached commercial operation.
The journey to commercialization began nearly three decades ago.
Back in the 1990s, a group of scientists at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne worked with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop breakthrough technology to collect the sun’s thermal energy and then store it in molten salt. From 1994 to 1999, Rocketdyne and DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) built and studied a pilot project to validate technology—creating the world’s first molten salt receiver at Solar Two, a 10-megawatt (MW) test facility in the Mojave Desert.
One challenge remained: how to cost-effectively scale up and commercialize the emerging technology at the utility-scale.
With seed capital from investment firm U.S. Renewables Group and in partnership with Rocketdyne’s parent company United Technologies Corporation, the company SolarReserve formed in 2008 to commercialize the technology. From early 2008 through 2011, SolarReserve worked closely with Rocketdyne to design a commercial-scale molten salt receiver assembly and an advanced heliostat control system that significantly reduced costs and had 10 times more capacity than the Solar Two pilot project.
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The SunShot Initiative is managed by the Solar Energy Technologies Office, the primary office within the U.S. Department of Energy that funds innovations in solar power. Learn more about the SunShot Initiative’s concentrating solar power program.