July 15, 2009

Feds to fund high-tech solar power studies

The U.S. Energy Department says it will provide as much as $52.5 million to research and develop solar power systems that can produce electricity day and night.

The systems are concentrating solar power technologies that concentrate and capture the sun's energy as heat, which then drives an engine or turbine to produce electrical power. Officials said such plants can include low-cost energy storage, which allows them to provide electricity even when the sun is not shining. Current solar technologies typically don't have the capability or storage capacity, operating only during daytime hours.

The new project, said Energy Department officials, will seek to improve technology to extend operation to an average of about 18 hours per day -- a level that would make it possible for a CSP plant to displace a traditional coal power plant.

Low-cost renewable energy generation that includes energy storage is one key to our efforts to diversify domestic energy sources and create new jobs, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. By investing in the development of low-cost solar technologies we can pave the way toward faster deployment of carbon-free, large-scale energy sources.

Officials said they anticipate issuing as many as 13 project awards.