Concentrating Solar Collectors

Concentrating solar collectors concentrate solar energy onto a small area to produce extreme heat. This extreme heat can then be used to produce steam, to drive electrical generators to make electricity, or even drive heat engines to provide air-conditioning.


If you have used a magnifying glass to burn paper or sticks then you know that you focus the glass until the sunlight comes to a very fine point. This is similar to how concentrating collectors work. They can use mirrors, polished metal, or even shiny plastic to focus the rays of the sun onto a relatively smaller area to produce heat.


Solar collectors that concentrate solar energy can be acres of controlled mirrors pointing at a central receiver that powers a thousand homes or small parabolic reflectors that can easily cook your next meal or power your own home.

Concentrating solar power collectors work best in areas that get lots of direct sunlight and few clouds. That’s why you will see most of the large concentrations of these types of collectors in hot arid locations.

There are three main concentrating collector systems:

  • Linear Concentrator Systems - These type of collectors are made up of large mirrors that focus sunlight onto a central receiver of which a fluid is pumped through to create steam that spins a turbine and generates electricity.  The collectors use a tracking system that follows the sun as it moves from east to west to get the sunlight focused on the central receiver.
 
  • Parabolic Trough Systems – These collectors resemble long troughs formed into parabolic shapes that focus the sunlight onto a receiver tube that is positioned along the focal line of each trough. This system can also be used to produce steam to power a turbine to generate electricity.
  • Linear Fresnel Reflector Systems – This type of concentrating collector system consists of mirrors mounted on tracking systems on the ground that focus sunlight on a receiver tube fixed above the mirrors. A Fresnel lens (much like a magnifying lens) is mounted above the receiver tube further focuses the sunlight on the receiver tube.

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