Low-concentration solar-power systems based on organic rankine cycles for distributed-scale applications: Overview and further developments

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This paper is concerned with the emergence and development of low- to medium-grade thermal-energy conversion systems for distributed power generation based on thermodynamic vapour-phase heat-engine cycles undergone by organic working-fluids, namely organic Rankine cycles (ORCs). ORC power systems are, to some extent, a relatively established and mature technology that is well-suited to converting low-/medium-grade heat (at temperatures up to ~ 300 – 400 °C) to useful work, at an output power scale from a few kW to 10s of MW. Thermal efficiencies in excess of 25% are achievable at higher temperatures and larger scales, and efforts are currently in progress to improve the overall economic viability, and thus uptake, of ORC power systems by focusing on advanced architectures, working-fluid selection, heat exchangers and expansion machines. Solar-power systems based on ORC technology have a significant potential to be used for distributed power generation, by converting thermal energy from simple and low-cost non-concentrated or low-concentration collectors to mechanical, hydraulic or electrical energy. Current fields of use include mainly geothermal and biomass/biogas, as well as the recovery and conversion of waste heat, leading to improved energy efficiency, primary energy (i.e. fuel) use and emission minimization, yet the technology is highly transferable to solar power generation as an affordable alternative to small- to medium-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems. Solar-ORC systems offer naturally the advantages of providing a simultaneous thermal-energy output for hot water provision and/or space heating, and the particularly interesting possibility of relatively straightforward on-site (thermal) energy storage. Key performance characteristics are presented, and important heat transfer effects that act to limit performance are identified as noteworthy directions of future research for the further development of this technology.




Markides, C. N. (2015). Low-concentration solar-power systems based on organic rankine cycles for distributed-scale applications: Overview and further developments. Frontiers in Energy Research. Frontiers Media S.A. https://doi.org/10.3389/fenrg.2015.00047

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