The state-of-the-art of parabolic dish solar concentrators is the faceted, glass-metal dish. The mass production costs of glass-metal dishes may be high because they do not incorporate the innovations of design and materials developed over the last eight years. Therefore, Sandia National Laboratories has undertaken to develop two stretched-membrane parabolic dish concentrators for the Department of Energy’s Solar Thermal Program. These solar concentrators are being designed for integration with an advanced solar receiver and a Stirling engine/generator in a 25-kWe power production unit. The first dish, which builds on the successful design of the stretched-membrane heliostats, is to be a low risk, near-term commercial solar concentrator. This solar concentrator comprises 12 large, 3.6-m diameter, stretched-membrane facets that are formed into parabolic shapes either with a large vacuum or by performing the thin membranes plastically. The focal length-to-diameter ratios (f/Ds) for the facets are about 3.0, relatively large for a dish but much lower than heliostats where they typically range from 50 to 100. Two contractors are currently fabricating facets for this dish, and a third contractor is designing the facet support structure and pedestal for the dish. The second stretched-membrane concentrator is a single-element monolithic dish with an f/D of 0.6. The dish is shaped into a parabola by plastically yielding the membrane using a combination of uniform and nonuniform loading. Initial measurements of the dish indicate that it has a slope error of 2.6 milliradians (one standard deviation) relative to a perfect parabola. In this paper, the designs of the two stretched-membrane dishes are analyzed using the computer code CIRCE to model the optical performance of the concentrators and a thermal model, which includes conduction, convection, and radiation heat transfer, to calculate the thermal losses from the cavity solar receivers. The solar collector efficiency, defined as the product of the optical efficiency of the collector and the thermal efficiency of the receiver, is optimized for comparing the performance of several solar concentrator configurations. Ten facet arrangements for the faceted stretched-membrane dish and the single-element stretched-membrane dish are modeled and their performances compared with that of a state-of-the-art glass-metal dish. Last, the initial designs of these two stretched-membrane dishes are described along with the results of preliminary performance measurements on their respective optical elements.

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