Linear solar simulator for receiver tests in the QUARZ laboratory in Cologne, Germany.
Photo: DLR

Top performance for decades: Quality assurance for solar thermal power plants

Lowering electricity production costs counts as one of the prime goals of solar thermal power plant operators. High product quality and a decades-long life of the plants are therefore becoming ever more important. Quality assurance measuring methods can help plant operators and manufacturers achieve this goal.

Solar thermal power plants consist of many components which have to be structured very precisely to achieve optimum performance and keep running efficiently for decades in a desert climate. The key element is the solar field, whose mirrors have to be shaped and adjusted exactly to reflect the solar radiation in an optimum concentration onto the receiver. Small differences from the optimum can quickly lead to serious technical and commercial losses.

In recent years, new methods and measuring instruments have been developed which can be used, for instance, to quickly and precisely control the precise mirror adjustment in the construction phase of the solar field with the aid of optical measuring processes. By the same token, the efficiency of the receivers (for example, the absorber tubes in parabolic trough power plants) in converting solar radiation into high-temperature heat can today be measured quickly and precisely. This development in methods is also important for the introduction of industrial standards in this still relatively young technology. Another current field of work is the development of measuring methods to test the long-term wear resistance of components in solar thermal power plants under often adverse operational and environmental conditions.

German research institutes and companies have played a leading role internationally in these areas of work in recent years. One example is QUARZ, a qualifying centre based in Cologne-Porz, Germany, which was set up with the help of funding provided in part by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, and which today offers a wide spectrum of quality assurance measuring methods for many partners and ­clients from industry and science.