5 Uses for a Parabolic Solar Concentrator

  • Intermediate

A parabolic solar concentrator is a curved array of mirrors that reflects all incident light onto a single point. This significantly magnifies the power of the sun, generating intense amounts of heat. There are many possible uses for solar concentrators. Small concentrators generate heat for cooking and domestic hot water. Large concentrators generate steam for power generation and industrial processes. Solar concentrators are often used in conjunction with a Fresnel lens. This is a type of lens that is specially curved to focus all the light that passes through it into a single point.

1. Starting Fires

The first use worth noting is also the crudest. If you are out of matches and lighter fluid, a parabolic solar concentrator can be used to start a fire. Focus the light onto a pile of tinder and kindling. If the concentrator is large enough to start a fire and the fuel is dry, it should start smoking and smoldering within seconds. Blow on the hot spot gently until it the fuel bursts into flame.

2. Cooking

Solar parabolic concentrators can be used for all kinds of tasks involved in food preparation. They can heat water for brewing coffee or tea. They can boil water for cooking rice or pasta. Arranging the mirrored panels around a skewer can replace a barbecue or fire pit. You can use this design for your next hot dog grilling session or pig roast. There are drawbacks to this method of cooking, however. The effectiveness of a parabolic concentrator diminishes rapidly as the sun moves through the sky. Maintaining a high temperature requires constant tracking. Focusing a small, quickly moving point of light on the food also presents another difficulty. An improperly sized concentrator can sear the outside of the meat but leave the inside raw.

3. Water Heating

Parabolic solar concentrators can be used to heat water, although you will not find them in most professionally designed domestic hot water systems. In fact, the concentrators simply generate too much heat for these systems. Flat-panel or evacuated tube collectors are more common. Nevertheless, you can use a parabolic reflector to heat water for washing when you are cut off from the conveniences of modern technology.

4. Industrial Steam

Solar concentrators can be used to generate heat for many industrial processes. Supercritical steam can generate hydraulic pressure. It can also be used for cleaning, disinfecting, or stripping finishes. The most effective applications are constant processes. Although the parabolic concentrator can quickly raise the water temperature, storing this heat is inefficient and impractical.

5. Power Generation

There are several different designs for concentrated solar thermal power plants. At some plants, rows and rows of parabolic troughs are aligned in a field. The troughs are all equipped with trackers so that they always face the sun. The reflectors concentrate light onto a tube filled with fluid or molten salt. The salt is heated, generating pressure that spins a turbine and creates alternating current electricity.