Assessing the Optical Performance Impact of Tracking Error in an Operational Concentrated Solar Power Plant Using Monte Carlo Ray-Tracing Simulation

Research output: NRELPresentation


Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) provides firm and dispatchable electricity due to its thermal storage and hybridization capabilities, which supports the decarbonization of our energy supply. Of the various CSP technologies, parabolic trough collectors are the most mature, with over 500 MW operating worldwide. The optical performance of parabolic trough systems is sensitive to tracking error, which is defined as the angular offset of a collector away from the sun position in the transversal plane. Tracking error commonly occurs due to non-continuous adjustment of the trough angle to point toward the sun, but other factors such as gravity, heating, and wind loading can also contribute to tracking error. Researchers have explored the impact of tracking error on optical performance both numerically and experimentally, but existing studies do not include measurements from operational utility-scale power plants. Tilt angle measurements of parabolic troughs at operational utility-scale power plants illustrate spatial variations in optical performance and include various sources of tracking error such as gravity, heating, and wind loading. To fully characterize wind driven loads on parabolic troughs, we are conducting a long-term field measurement campaign at the Nevada Solar One CSP plant located in Boulder City, NV, which has a nominal capacity of 72 MW and 0.5 hours of full-load storage. We record load measurements on four outer trough rows, collecting support structure bending moments, drive torque moments, dynamic accelerations of the spaceframe, mirror displacement, and tilt angles. Using the tilt measurements acquired at 20 Hz frequency, we calculate the deviation between the nominal sun position and the tracker angle. Using a Monte-Carlo ray-tracing simulation software, we assess the impact of the tracker angle deviation on optical performance throughout the diurnal cycle at various spatial locations within the CSP plant. In our view, this first-of-a-kind study will provide important guidance for future trough designs that reduce the impact of various sources of tracking error on performance.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages34
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

NamePresented at the ASME 17th International Conference on Energy Sustainability, 10-12 July 2023, Washington, D.C.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5000-86850


  • concentrating solar power
  • field measurements
  • optical performance
  • parabolic trough
  • ray tracing
  • simulation


Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing the Optical Performance Impact of Tracking Error in an Operational Concentrated Solar Power Plant Using Monte Carlo Ray-Tracing Simulation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this