Limiting solar power is the inability to cost effectively store energy. The most cost effective means to store solar energy is thermally in the ground, which can then be used for direct conversion to electricity. However, doing so is limited by a historically poor thermal efficiency of such engines. A novel Stirling engine is posed which more closely mimics a Carnot heat engine. It does this through the use of a new passive thermal ‘switch’ which permits heat flow into the expansion chamber of the Stirling engine only when the temperature of the chamber is above a desired value. Ideally heat would be added only at the end of the compression stroke and the beginning of the expansion stroke. Central to this thermal switch is the use of a vanadium dioxide (VO2) low mass heat exchanger internal to the expansion chamber. This low mass heat exchanger allows the film material to track and react to the temperature changes within the expansion chamber, permitting it to transfer heat only when needed. An adiabatic model of this enhanced solar Stirling engine is developed. Results indicate that the thermal efficiency can be nearly doubled, delivering a second law efficiency of over 0.6. Further, a year round overall efficiency accounting for losses in the Stirling engine and solar thermal collectors of 7% appears to be feasible when this engine is integrated with ground solar storage, providing the necessary power to meet loads in a low energy residence. Such results demonstrate promise for future application of this technology.

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