Improving the operation of concentrating collectors

Improving the operation of concentrating solar thermal collectors is one of the focus areas of the Research on Renewable Energy Group (GPER) at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) in the south of Brazil. In the interview on SHC 2019 conference in Santiago de Chile in November 2019, the GPER coordinator Prof Julio Elias Normey Rico explained how control and automation strategies can improve the yield of concentrating collectors.

The photo is taken from the youtube video. The related paper was published recently as part of the conference proceedings (see attached pdf).

The work on improving the yield of Linear Fresnel collectors is a partnership between two undergraduate departments: Automation and Control Engineering as well as Mechanical Engineering. Besides, it is partly funded by Petrobras, a Brazilian multinational in the energy sector, which is building a concentrating solar power plant in Rio de Janeiro state and has been investing in renewable energy research for a few years now.

The project aims to enhance the mobility of the mirrors that form a Fresnel collector. At present, all mirrors move simultaneously, but the goal is to make each one moves independently in order to better harness solar energy throughout the day. This new automation strategy could avoid overheating in case of high solar radiation, which could cause permanent damage to the equipment. Usually, stagnation is avoided by defocusing the mirrors resulting in solar energy losses. An improved tracking strategy can thus improve the cost-benefit relation of concentrating collectors.

The project is now in the theoretical phase, thus the obtained results are based on simulations. In the following years the construction of a prototype is planned to get experimental results, however, the continuity of detailed design, construction and testing phases depends on additional funding, which is not guaranteed, especially now that the Brazilian government made a big cut on universities research funds.

Organisations mentioned in this article:

swc2019-0006-GPER of UFSC