Concentrating solar power systems use mirrors or lenses to concentrate or focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. This focused beam of light is then used in either conventional power plants or in photovoltaic systems. Concentrating solar power systems are divided into concentrating solar thermal and concentrating photovoltaic.
Concentrating solar thermal is used to produce renewable heat by focusing a large area of sunlight into a small beam. This heat is then used in conventional power plants to generate electricity. There are many concentrating solar thermal technologies available but the most commonly used are trough, parabolic and solar power tower. They are the most developed technologies used today.
Concentrating photovoltaic solar power systems use the sunlight on photovoltaic surfaces to produce electricity. Solar collectors are used to collect sunlight and a heat sink is used to store the solar energy in order to generate electricity. The concentrating photovoltaic systems perform the best in proper sunlight. These can be further divided into low concentration photovoltaic, medium concentration photovoltaic and high concentration photovoltaic.
Concentrating photovoltaic and thermal technology can be used to generate heat and electricity in the same system. The thermal power so obtained can be used for heating water for domestic use, for desalination and air conditioning. The electricity generated can also be put to use in a variety of domestic and commercial applications.
Concentrating solar power has been in use for a very long time. It was used to produce steam for the first solar steam engine. Concentrating solar power systems can be used for irrigation, refrigeration and locomotion.