The thermal efficiency of a parabolic trough collector is a function of both the fraction of direct normal radiation absorbed by the receiver (the optical efficiency) and the heat lost to the environment when the receiver is at operating temperature. The thermal efficiency can be determined by testing the collector under actual operating conditions or by separately measuring these two components. This paper describes how outdoor measurement of the optical efficiency is combined with laboratory measurements of receiver heat loss to obtain the thermal efficiency curve. This paper describes this approach and also makes the case that there are advantages to plotting collector efficiency versus the difference between the operating temperature and the ambient temperature at which the receiver heat loss was measured divided by radiation to a fractional power (on the order of 1/3 but obtained via data regression)—as opposed to the difference between operating and ambient temperatures divided by the radiation. The results are shown to be robust over wide ranges of ambient temperature, sky temperature, and wind speed.

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