Numerical simulation enables the optimization of a solar collector without the expense of building prototypes. This study details an approach using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to simulate the performance of a solar thermal collector. Inputs to the simulation include; heat loss coefficient, irradiance, and ambient temperature. A simulated thermal efficiency was validated using experimental results by comparing the calculated heat removal factor. The validated methodology was then applied to five different inlet configurations of a header–riser collector. The most efficient designs had uniform flow through the risers. The worst performing configurations had low flow rates in the risers that led to high surface temperatures and poor thermal efficiency. The calculated heat removal factor differed by between 4.2% for the serpentine model and 12.1% for the header–riser. The discrepancies were attributed to differences in thermal contact between plate and tubes in the simulated and actual design.

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