Thermo-Economic Optimisation of Solar Tower Thermal Power Plants
Amidst a backdrop of rapidly increasing world-wide electricity demand, solar thermal power generation shows great potential for supplying the electricity needs of numerous countries in the Sun-belt regions of the world. In these regions, the absence of significant biomass, hydrological or geothermal reserves makes solar thermal power the most promising solution for meeting that most fundamental of demands: energy. Amidst the different options available for harnessing the Sun’s power, solar thermal technologies have been shown capable of producing electricity at the most economically viable rates . However, all currently existing solar thermal power plants have been based around the use of Rankine, or steam turbine, cycles which are limited in the efficiencies they can achieve. In order to make better use of the Sun’s energy, higher efficiency cycles should be used. With their high concentration ratios, solar thermal power tower systems are amongst the best options for making use of the Sun’s potential. As the energy delivery temperature of central receiver systems is higher, they harness the solar radiation at a higher exergy level . This higher temperature also opens the road to the use of more advanced thermodynamic cycles. Hybrid fossil-fuel – solar systems are also imaginable , as the energy delivery temperature is compatible with standard gas turbine cycles. Hybrid systems can help mitigate the requirements of thermal energy storage, as well as reducing the perceived risk when investing in new solar technology, which stimulates research and development, as well as providing employment. Recent developments in the field of high temperature volumetric receivers  along with rock- based packed-bed storage systems have opened up an interesting possibility. High temperature receivers allow the use of higher-efficiency combined-cycle setups, whereas packed-bed units offer the possibility of cheap storage. Larger storage volumes allow pure-solar systems to extend their power production into the night, making hybrid options less attractive. This is compounded by the common practice of guaranteeing a preferred tariff for electricity sales from pure-solar sources With this in mind, a complete dynamic model of a power plant based on the pure-solar concept has been elaborated. The performance of the setup is evaluated over a range of days, using solar insolation profiles obtained from satellite data. In order to examine different design options and their impact on the performance of the power plant, a multi-objective, thermo-economic optimisation of both the power plant superstructure and operating conditions was performed using the new, dynamic models. By means of an evolutionary algorithm , a family of Pareto-optimal points were obtained, representing the trade-off between increased power plant efficiency, and lower levelised energy costs. Through use of optimisation, it was shown that exergetic efficiencies in the region of 21-27% can be achieved, for relatively low power outputs of between 3 and 11 MWe. These configurations correspond with levelised electricity costs in the region of 14-21 UScts/kWhe. In most regions, the use of solar power is encouraged by the guarantee of a preferential tariff for electricity sales from renewable sources. Sale of electricity at a price of around 24 UScts/kWhe  should therefore be imaginable, ensuring the economic viability of solar thermal power tower systems. It can be concluded that, when properly designed, solar thermal power plants based on combined cycles are both economically and thermodynamically promising. By raising the efficiency of the plant, the size of the solar collector field is diminished, increasing the otherwise low energy densities of solar power systems. By reducing the levelised electricity costs, solar thermal power plants become more economically viable, accelerating their construction and thus, hopefully, reducing our dependence on fossil-fuels.