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Journal of Energy in Southern Africa

On-line version ISSN 2413-3051
Print version ISSN 1021-447X


SITUMBEKO, Shadreck M  and  INAMBAO, Freddie L. System and component modelling of a low temperature solar thermal energy conversion cycle. J. energy South. Afr. [online]. 2013, vol.24, n.4, pp.51-62. ISSN 2413-3051.

Solar thermal energy (STE) technology refers to the conversion of solar energy to readily usable energy forms. The most important component of a STE technology is the collectors; these absorb the shorter wavelength solar energy (400-700nm) and convert it into usable, longer wavelength (about 10 times as long) heat energy. Depending on the quality (temperature and intensity) of the resulting thermal energy, further conversions to other energy forms such as electrical power may follow. Currently some high temperature STE technologies for electricity production have attained technical maturity; technologies such as parabolic dish (commercially available), parabolic trough and power tower are only hindered by unfavourable market factors including high maintenance and operating costs. Low temperature STEs have so far been restricted to water and space heating; however, owing to their lower running costs and almost maintenance free operation, although operating at lower efficiencies, may hold a key to future wider usage of solar energy. Low temperature STE conversion technology typically uses flat plate and low concentrating collectors such as parabolic troughs to harness solar energy for conversion to mechanical and/or electrical energy. These collector systems are relatively cheaper, simpler in construction and easier to operate due to the absence of complex solar tracking equipment. Low temperature STEs operate within temperatures ranges below 300oC. This research work is geared towards developing feasible low temperature STE conversion technology for electrical power generation. Preliminary small-scale concept plants have been designed at 500Wp and 10KWp. Mathematical models of the plant systems have been developed and simulated on the EES (Engineering Equation Solver) platform. Fourteen candidate working fluids and three cycle configurations have been analysed with the models. The analyses included a logic model selector through which an optimal conversion cycle configuration and working fluid mix was established. This was followed by detailed plant component modelling; the detailed component model for the solar field was completed and was based on 2-dimensional segmented thermal network, heat transfer and thermo fluid dynamics analyses. Input data such as solar insolation, ambient temperature and wind speed were obtained from the national meteorology databases. Detailed models of the other cycle components are to follow in next stage of the research. This paper presents findings of the system and solar field component.

Keywords : low temperature solar thermal energy; mathematical model; EEES computer simulations; working fluids; cycle configuration; component and system models.

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