A low-cost rigid foam-based concentrator technology development program was funded by the DOE SunShot Initiative to meet installed cost goals of $75/m2 vs. current costs of ∼ $200–250/m2. Phase 1 of the project focused on design trades and cost analyses leading to a cost-optimized self-powered autonomous tracking heliostat concept with a mirror surface area in the 100m2 range. In Phase 2 30-year accelerated testing of the mirror modules based on ReflecTec film with 94% specular reflectivity bonded on composite foam substrate were initiated and completed in Phase 3. The tests with 15 coupons showed optical performance degradation of less than 5% in specular reflectance following 30-year equivalent UV testing and other abuse testing such as acid rain, bird dropping, thermal cycling, etc. A small scale prototype (3m×2m) heliostat design based on modular truss elements with removable mirror modules was developed in detail. In this phase components such as the dual-axis actuators were sized and selected based on wind load requirements and pointing accuracy demands were completed. Finite Element analyses for the mechanical structure with mirror modules were performed using three separate commercial codes — ANSYS, COMSOL and SolidWorks to validate the optical errors induced by wind loads on the structure up to 35 mph. Results indicated that the RMS deflections contributed to less than 0.4 mrad pointing error. Dynamic response of the heliostat indicated that the first 5 eigenmodes were in the 17–20 Hz range. The individual structure elements such as the trusses and c-rails were fabricated locally and assembled with the mirror facets in the lab for initial fit check and testing. The nine mirror facet surface errors were characterized using photogrammetry and verified using Reverse Hartmann techniques and showed to be in the order of 1 mrad or less. A three-level controller (main, gateway and heliostat) was architected and built. Tracking of the sun is done using NREL’s Sun Tracking Algorithm implemented in the gateway controller. Target-pointing vectors are calculated for each heliostat and conveyed wirelessly to the individual heliostat controllers for actuating the azimuth and elevation motors. The power subsystem consisting of solar panels and a battery provide 24V for the actuators and controller boards. The system was sized to provide adequate power for a period of 5hrs of operation when power is not available. Initial calibration will be performed with on-site camera tracking the sun’s image on a target located approximately 52m from the heliostat. Testing of the heliostat pointing under calm and windy conditions will be done to demonstrate overall performance that meet DOE targets of 4 mrad under 27mph winds. Commercialization efforts are underway to transition the design to the commercial sector. The project is well on its way to approaching overall cost targets and current estimates are approximately $90–110/m2 and lower costs can be achieved with alternates to the film we have identified.

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