Verification of Optical Modelling of Sunshape and Surface Slope Error for Concentrating Solar Power Systems

Michael Wagner, Ye Wang, Daniel Potter, Charles-Alexis Asselineau, Clotilde Corsi, Cyril Caliot, Benjamin Piaud, Manuel Blanco, Jin-Soo Kim, John Pye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus Citations


Sunshape and reflector surface slope error distributions are significant elements in modelling the optical behaviour of a concentrating solar power system. Different optical modelling tools implement these elements with various approaches. Discrepancies can easily accumulate in simulations of a large optical system as a result of incorrect implementations. This study reviews and verifies the implementations of these two factors in six tools that are widely used for optical modelling in solar energy research: Tonatiuh, SolTrace, Tracer, Solstice, Heliosim and SolarPILOT. The review incorporates three rounds of tests. Firstly, basic tests examine each factor carefully in simplified on-axis reflector–target configurations (round ‘A’). Secondly, off-axis effects are introduced (round ‘B’). Thirdly, full heliostat field simulations are verified (round ‘C’). All of the test cases are simulated with each modelling tool, and results are compared. Discrepancies were observed due to approximations inherent in the cone optics (convolution) methods, incorrect implementation the of pillbox slope errors, different approaches to setting the circumsolar ratio for the Buie sunshape, and different approaches to the calculation of blocking and shading losses in some tools. All issues are discussed fully, and solutions to most issues were implemented within the scope of the present study. Some remaining issues are noted. The study highlights the importance of careful implementation of these aspects of optical modelling and contributes to an improvement in the quality of several widely-used tools.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)461-474
Number of pages14
JournalSolar Energy
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s)

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5500-75694


  • Cone optics
  • Monte Carlo ray tracing
  • Optical modelling
  • Sunshape
  • Surface slope error
  • Verification


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