Sandia has developed a significantly cheaper, more efficient, and more accurate method of measuring the irradiance from solar reflections using a digital camera.

Measurements of reflected solar irradiance is of great importance to industry, military, and government agencies to assess potential impacts of glint and glare from growing numbers of solar power installations around the world.

In addition, this measurement technique can be used to monitor and maintain system performance for concentrating solar power applications.



Concentrating solar power (CSP) uses arrays of mirrors to concentrate large amounts of heat by focusing sunlight from a large field into a much smaller area. The concentrated heat energy is then used in a conventional power cycle or other heat engine to produce mechanical power that drives an electrical generator. The heat can also be efficiently and cheaply stored to produce electricity when the sun is not shining. Typically, CSP power plants generate large amounts of power (hundreds of megawatts) for utility-scale applications.

The Concentrating Solar Technologies Department develops solar thermal electric technologies for the DOE Solar Thermal Electric Program. Working in conjunction with the Photovoltaics Systems Department and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the department has developed parabolic trough, power tower, and dish/engine technology to support virtually every major solar thermal electric activity in the United States.

In conjunction with industry, our staff have had pivotal technical and programmatic roles in the Solar Two power tower project; dish/engine joint venture programs with SAIC, Allied Signal, and Boeing; and in the development of advanced concepts, components (heliostats, solar receivers, and engines), and systems. We also support a range of systems analyses, market identification studies, and international cooperative projects (through the International Energy Agency (IEA) working group SolarPACES), conducted in cooperation with industry partners.




A recent overhaul of the DOE’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF), operated by Sandia, is dramatically improving researchers’ ability to understand and use concentrating solar power (CSP). The $17.8M upgrade to the NSTTF adds state-of-the-art test capabilities, and the resulting research is expected to lead to more solar power use on the electric grid.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded the nine-part project of new additions and upgrades to the one-of-a-kind test center, including adding a new $10M molten-salt test loop (MSTL), an optical methods laboratory and other critical testing capabilities, upgrading the parabolic trough test platform, and replacing the original heliostat mirrors aimed at the Solar Tower. These upgrades will help with Sandia’s goal of fostering more use of low-carbon power sources.

The DOE also purchased a new mobile test system to assist companies that are not able to bring their systems/components to Sandia. With this system, Sandia researchers can conduct thermal and optical measurements/tests at industry sites, and provide on-site solutions to a customer’s needs in most cases.

“We are thrilled to have these new testing capabilities and upgrades,” said CSP ARRA project manager Bill Kolb. “The testing and analysis we can now support will have a direct impact on our nation’s ability to respond to our energy security challenges.”