Geometric and thermodynamic arguments are used to derive upper limits on the performance of a solar energy collection system, consisting of an axisymmetric heliostat field, a solar tower, secondary optics and a black receiver. Performance limits on collected power, concentration, and work output are presented. Performance of tower systems with several secondary optics options is compared: tower-top Compound Parabolic Concentrator (CPC), Tailored Edge-Ray Concentrator (TERC) approximated by a cone, and Cassegrainian with ground-level CPC or Compound Elliptic Concentrator (CEC). Optimized ray tracing is used to generate the design parameters of the secondary concentrators that yield the highest optical efficiency. The results show that the tower-top Cone provides the best performance regarding both concentration and efficiency, except for very large fields. The Cassegrainian designs come in second, but become equal and even better than the Cone for large fields. The results for the Cassegrainian are sensitive to the value of the reflectivity, due to the additional reflections incurred. The choice of a CEC is better than a CPC for the terminal concentration in a Cassegrainian system, but the difference is small. The suitability of the different design options for high-temperature solar applications is discussed. The recommendations regarding optical configuration depend on field size, as well as on application-specific constraints.

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