What is Solar Thermal Electricity?
Solar Thermal Electricity (STE), also known as concentrating solar power (CSP), produces heat or generate electricity by using mirrors or lenses to concentrate the sun’s rays to a temperature typically between 400 and 1000ºC. There are a variety of shapes of mirrors, sun-tracking methods and ways to provide useful energy, but they all work under the same principle. Individual STE energy plants in operation are now typically between 50 and 392MW in size, but could be larger still. STE plants are typically much larger than photovoltaic installations, which use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s light and convert it to heat, which drives a heat engine (usually a steam turbine) to generate electricity; often to be fed directly into homes or buildings. STE specifically can be integrated with thermal storage or in hybrid operation with fossil fuels, offering firm capacity and dispatchable power on demand. It is suitable for peak loads and base-loads and power is typically fed into the electricity grid. Unlike solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, STE plants use steam turbines and have a capacity to store thermal energy for later conversion to electricity.