CSP Library

An Evaluation of Possible Next-Generation High-Temperature Molten-Salt Power Towers

Publishing date: December 2011


Since completion of the Solar Two molten-salt power tower demonstration in 1999, the solar industry has been developing initial commercial-scale projects that are 3 to 14 times larger. Like Solar Two, these initial plants will power subcritical steam-Rankine cycles using molten salt with a temperature of 565 °C. The main question explored in this study is whether there is significant economic benefit to develop future molten-salt plants that operate at a higher receiver outlet temperature. Higher temperatures would allow the use of supercritical steam cycles that achieve an improved efficiency relative to today’s subcritical cycle (~50% versus ~42%). The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of a 565 °C subcritical baseline plant was compared with possible future-generation plants that operate at 600 or 650 °C. The analysis suggests that ~8% reduction in LCOE can be expected by raising salt temperature to 650 °C. However, most of that benefit can be achieved by raising the temperature to only 600 °C. Several other important insights regarding possible next-generation power towers were also drawn: (1) the evaluation of receiver-tube materials that are capable of higher fluxes and temperatures, (2) suggested plant reliability improvements based on a detailed evaluation of the Solar Two experience, and (3) a thorough evaluation of analysis uncertainties.

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