As a part of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Solar Energy Technologies Program works to develop cost-competitive solar energy systems. One key area of investigation is concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies, which use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that then collect the solar energy and convert it to heat. With the continued research and development, it is reasonable to expect solar technologies will find even wider use for process applications where it makes economic sense.

According to the Solar Program’s website, the program is focused on “increasing the use of CSP in the United States, making CSP competitive in the intermediate power market by 2015, and developing advanced technologies that will reduce systems and storage costs, enabling CSP to be competitive in the baseload power market by 2020.” Lofty goals, certainly, but achievable. And it begs the question: have you considered solar?

Before you reject the idea, consider: Does 2010 look like you thought it would in 2000? You remember 2000, right? Bill Clinton was still our president. We were all relieved that the Millennium Bug forgot to strike, and instead computer systems smoothly transitioned to Y2K. And the economy was booming, with the U.S. productivity rate advancing 5 percent in last half of 1999, according to the Labor Dept. During those days, did anyone then think 2010 would look like this? Likewise, how can you predict that solar will not be a part of your process mix in 10 years?

Fortunately, the Solar Program’s website contains a wealth of information about solar energy’s potential for process applications. For instance, as part of its research in CSP, the DOE funds research and development for thermal storage. According to the site, it is hoped that the research can help support the development of advanced heat-transfer fluids and thermal storage systems, and promote the advancement of those heat transfer fluids and thermal storage materials and systems to reduce storage costs.

If the last decade had taught us anything, it’s that things change. So keep an open mind, learn about new and developing technologies, and let your mind wonder about how they could be used. The results could surprise all of us.