Wind Loading on Parabolic Trough Collectors: Wind and Structural Loads Measurements at an Operational Powerplant

Research output: NRELPresentation


Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) is a promising method for using solar power for electricity generation with thermal energy storage for industrial applications. Solar collectors constitute almost 1/3 of the total cost of the power plant. One of the primary drivers of unrealiability of these collectors is wind-driven loading of mirrors, support structures, and drives. To date, the design of the solar collector structures has relied on data from wind tunnels that do not adequately capture the dynamic effects observed at scale. NREL initiated a field measurement campaign at the operational Nevada Solar One (NSO) parabolic trough powerplant. At this plant, parabolic trough solar collectors track the sun from east to west in the course of a day and face varying wind loads depending on the wind properties and the angle of the troughs. The aim of the project is a detailed characterization of prevailing wind and turbulence conditions and resulting operational loads on parabolic troughs, providing insights into structural dynamic response, and generating a comprehensive wind-loading dataset for validating simulations of wind loading on collector structures. The measurements at NSO consist of sonic anemometers on masts at different heights to characterize the incoming flow and conditions at four trough rows at the edge of the trough field. In addition, a Doppler Lidar scans the horizontal plane above the troughs. The wind measurements at NSO have been continuously collecting data since October 2021 and are combined with structural load measurements that started in November 2022. The load measurements were installed on the same four outermost trough rows and include support structure bending moments, drive torque moments, dynamic accelerations of the spaceframe, mirror displacement, and tilt angles. Measurements are planned to continue until May 2023, providing a first-of-a-kind, high-resolution multi-month dataset of combined wind and load measurements. In this presentation, we show first results of the measurement campaign. Based on the measurements, we identified three main factors altering the flow over the parabolic troughs: Wind speed, wind direction, and the angle of the parabolic troughs. Most interactions between incoming wind and the trough field are observed when the wind blows perpendicular to the trough rows. In this case, the first rows experience the highest wind speed and block the downwind rows, creating conditions with decreased wind speed and enhanced turbulence within the trough field. Also, turbulent length scales are smaller after the first row. This leads to the highest static loads (bending and torque moments) at the first row but potentially increased dynamic loads within the field. We illustrate our findings with case studies focused on different wind conditions and will present fatigue analysis to highlight the impact of wind-driven loads on collector structures.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages12
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

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

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5000-86671


  • CSP collectors
  • parabolic
  • solar
  • wind loading


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