The thermal performance of parabolic trough concentrating solar collectors depends on both the structural and optical characteristics of the design. In order to reduce the cost of energy, advanced concentrating structures must significantly reduce the cost of collectors while maintaining good optical performance. This paper discusses a Finite Element Ray Tracer (FERT) that has been developed specifically to support the commercial design process. This is achieved by tying the whole of the support structure directly to its optical effects. Consequently, the optical performance metrics go beyond the typical reflector slope error RMS or average intercept factor to present the designer with spatially resolved analysis of localized performance. By incorporating this analytical method into the structural design process, collector cost and performance can be balanced efficiently and rapidly, allowing for an accelerated design period. At times, this insight has driven better, albeit unexpected, design decisions.

The paper presents an overview of the development process that Abengoa R&D uses to take advantage of its analytical optical analysis capability throughout all phases of a project, as well as a review of its implementation. A selection of case studies is also presented to illustrate how FERT enables the designer to identify local areas of concern, diagnose the cause, and quickly develop possible redesign strategies. Finally, the significance of various parameters within the ray tracer are discussed.

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