Solar Field Layout and Aimpoint Strategy Optimization

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The existing methods that determine heliostat aiming strategies for concentrating solar power central receiver plants typically use heuristics and/or are computationally expensive, and they lack flexibility for different desired flux profiles and receiver geometries. Because of the interaction between layout and aimpoint strategy, considering the former without accounting for the latter may yield solutions with superfluous heliostats that cannot be used efficiently without compromising receiver flux constraints. To that end, we develop a software decision tool that uses innovative optimization methods to both optimize aimpoint strategies and improve candidate layouts for the solar collection field of a concentrating solar power (CSP) central receiver plant. A CSP plant's effectiveness relies on the optical efficiency of the solar field, which may be limited by losses due to (i) the cosine effect, (ii) atmospheric attenuation, (iii) interference (i.e., shading and blocking) between heliostats, (iv) spillage as a result of heliostat positioning and geometry, and (iv) some heliostats' inability to direct irradiance to the receiver without damage due to excessive thermal flux. The goal of this work is to obtain optimized aiming strategies and improved solar field layouts that reduce capital cost and increase field optical efficiency and utilization, while meeting the power requirements of a given CSP receiver design. We formulate the aimpoint optimization problem as a mixed-integer linear programming model, which we then decompose into submodels that we solve in parallel. The decomposition subdivides the solar field into sections, and aimpoint strategies for each section are obtained independently of the others. To improve existing layouts, we develop a utilization-weighted efficiency metric that we utilize to relocate heliostats to sections of the solar field with similar efficiency and higher utilization. Finally, to connect our software to high-fidelity flux models, we develop a Python application programing interface to SolarPILOT, a mature software package that characterizes solar field performance and generates the heliostat layouts and flux maps that serve as input to our models
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages34
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5700-80596


  • aimpoint optimization
  • concentrating solar power
  • mixed-integer programming
  • plant operations
  • solar field layout


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