The largest single cost element of central receiver solar thermal powerplants is the heliostats, or pointable mirrors which reflect incident sunlight onto the central receiver of the powerplant. This fact is illustrated in the cost breakdown pie chart shown in Figure 2. Thus the largest single opportunity to reduce costs so as to enable cost-effective solar thermal power is to come up with a heliostat design which dramatically reduces heliostat cost while accomplishing engineering and operational objectives. This sets the context for the present project, and provides a strong rationale for validating the technical and cost-reduction potential of applying lightweight, low- cost inflatable-structure technology to heliostat design.
November 24, 2002