After significant interest in the 1970s, but relatively few deployments, the use of concentrating solar collectors for thermal applications, including enhanced oil recovery, desalination, and industrial process heat (IPH), is again increasing in global interest. In particular, recent advances in collector design and manufacturing have led to reduced cost per square meter of aperture area. In this study, analysis of a modern parabolic trough that is suited for use in small solar IPH (SIPH) applications predicts that the installed solar field cost can be as low as $170/m2. A slightly higher cost of $200/m2 is estimated for facilities typical of a SIPH plant size. Full project costs will include additional costs for contingency, piping and heat exchanger interface, and project indirect costs.

The cost for solar-generated heat by SIPH is quantified by defining the levelized cost of heat (LCOH). California offers a favorable environment for SIPH given its good insolation, gas prices typically higher than the national average, and policies promoting solar-thermal deployment. Given historically low gas prices, competing with natural gas remains the primary challenge to deployment. However, this study finds that the solar LCOH for many regions in California is lower than the LCOH from natural gas, using a representative installed solar hardware price and the average price for industrial natural gas in California.

Lastly, modification are in progress to the parabolic trough model within NREL’s System Advisor Model (SAM) to allow users to more easily predict performance for these steam-generation applications.

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