A general method for the design of flat-plate solar collectors based on solar collector theory has been developed. It can be applied to both liquid- and air-heating solar collectors. The solar collector efficiency is determined by the product of the effectiveness (ε) and the insolation use factor (IUF). The effectiveness describes the heat transfer characteristics of the collector and is shown to be a function of a solar number of transfer units (SNTU) and a parameter ψ. For an air-heating collector, the ψ parameter equals the collector efficiency factor, while for a liquid-heating collector it must account for the difference between the plate and tube heat transfer areas. The effectiveness and SNTU parameters are similar to the effectiveness and NTU parameters used in heat exchanger design methods. The IUF is a measure of the operating conditions of the collector. It represents the difference between the transmittance-absorptance product and the ratio of the minimum heat loss to the insolation on the exterior cover. The relationship between the effectiveness and the SNTU parameter is general for all nonconcentrating collectors. One advantage of this method over the traditional Hottel-Whillier method is that it separates the heat transfer characteristics of the solar collector from its optical properties and the operating conditions.

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