Linear Concentrator System Basics for Concentrating Solar Power

August 20, 2013

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Linear concentrating solar power (CSP) collectors capture the sun's energy with large mirrors that reflect and focus the sunlight onto a linear receiver tube. The receiver contains a fluid that is heated by the sunlight and then used to heat a traditional power cycle that spins a turbine that drives a generator to produce electricity. Alternatively, steam can be generated directly in the solar field, which eliminates the need for costly heat exchangers.

Linear concentrating collector fields consist of a large number of collectors in parallel rows that are typically aligned in a north-south orientation to maximize annual and summer energy collection. With a single-axis sun-tracking system, this configuration enables the mirrors to track the sun from east to west during the day, which ensures that the sun reflects continuously onto the receiver tubes.

Linear systems may incorporateĀ thermal storage. In these systems, the collector field is oversized to heat a storage system during the day so the additional steam it generates can be used to produce electricity in the evening or during cloudy weather. These plants can also be designed as hybrids, meaning that they use fossil fuel to supplement the solar output during periods of low solar radiation. In such a design, a natural gas-fired heater or gas-steam boiler/reheater is used. In the future, linear systems may be integrated with existing or new combined-cycle natural-gas- and coal-fired plants.

Parabolic Trough Systems

The most common CSP system in the United States is a linear concentrator that uses parabolic trough collectors. In such a system, the receiver tube is positioned along the focal line of each parabola-shaped reflector. The tube is fixed to the mirror structure and the heat transfer fluid flows through and out of the field of solar mirrors to where it is used to create steam (or, in the case of a water/steam receiver, it is sent directly to the turbine).

Illustration of a linear concentrator power plant using parabolic trough collectors. Sunlight is shown reflecting off the parabolic troughs and onto the receivers positioned along the focal line of each trough. The hot heat-transfer fluid exiting the receivers flows to a turbine, generating electricity that is fed into the power grid. The cool heat-transfer fluid exiting the turbine flows into a steam condenser to be further cooled and sent back into the solar field. Thermal storage tanks are shown between the turbine and the steam condenser.

Linear Fresnel Reflector Systems

A second linear concentrator technology is the linear Fresnel reflector system. Flat or slightly curved mirrors mounted on trackers on the ground are configured to reflect sunlight onto a receiver tube fixed in space above the mirrors. A small parabolic mirror is sometimes added atop the receiver to further focus the sunlight.

Illustration of a linear concentrator power plant using linear Fresnel collectors. Sunlight is shown reflecting off the mirrors on the ground and onto receivers located above the mirrors. The hot heat-transfer fluid exiting the receivers flows to a turbine, generating electricity that is fed into the power grid. The cool heat-transfer fluid exiting the turbine flows into a steam condenser to be further cooled and sent back into the solar field.