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solar energy

and the spacecraſt people have been doing that for years.’ With the experienced gained by developing the soſtware for aerospace applications, he said: ‘We have all the right elements to model heat transfer on earth’. But MSC Soſtware felt it was missing

one terrestrial dimension – the weather. So the company hired a graduate student from Arizona State University, which has an impressive solar energy programme. He pointed out that, for decades, at virtually every airport around the world, virtually every day, someone has been noting down the temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, and precipitation. Later this year, therefore, MSC Soſtware will release a GUI ‘that makes it very user-friendly. You just grab a file off the internet for an airport near you and you can simulate a house for solar cooling or heating’. Te availability of such weather data, neatly integrated with the thermal analyser, allows engineers to conduct simulations that have two divergent purposes. A solar power company may wish to use the real data to get a realistic projection of the likely output of its installation. But others may want to choose a best and worst case – the hottest day and the coldest – to gauge how the constraints that the weather might place on their equipment. Behee sees applications for the simulation

soſtware in the concentrated power plant arena – both thermal solar power and arrays of PV cells – and in the design of PV solar panels for roof-tops. Te US Government has a programme to promote concentrated solar power plants. He pointed out that there was growing interest in hybrid power plants – when available, sunlight would be used to turn water to steam to drive a turbine but, when the sun was not out, gas or other fuel could be used. ‘We can model that concept, where you use

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the same turbine and pipework,’ he said. Other concepts that the soſtware has been applied to were flat-plate mirrors that were etched with a grating so as to focus on a parabolic collector made of glass that had the heat-transfer fluid at its focus. Unfortunately the heat distorted the glass, making it de-focus. Te solution was to design the collector so that it was out of focus when cold but thermal distortion brought it into focus as it operated. Behee also noted that ‘PV is big in Arizona

too, and tends to be more popular because it has fewer moving parts’. Tere is a lot of scope for optimisation, he said, in trying to keep the cells cool, so as to maximise their energy conversion efficiency. Concepts have included cooling fins on the underside of the panels and heat exchangers on the back of the panels, so it

might even be possible to get warm water out of a PV panel set-up. It is, Behee said, ‘an exciting recycling of

technology’ that the thermal analysis soſtware that owes its origins to aerospace – oſten military projects – should now be being applied to the supply of ‘green thermal’ energy. With the new ability to incorporate real data on weather conditions with an easy-to-use GUI, the industry will be able to make realistic projections. Aerospace modelling, he said, tended to focus on best/worst case scenarios – how would my military airplane react to a day parked out in the full sunshine of a desert airfield or a winter’s day in Alaska? But now, MSC Soſtware had found a way to do realistic simulations and modelling for the energy sector using realistic data.

Deformation of a single solar panel due to wind and solar thermal loading l @scwmagazine

Modelling the chemistry of making solar cells A similar concern with performing real-life simulations for the solar energy sector was evident from Ahmad Haidari, global industry director (energy and process) for Ansys, which has its headquarters south of Pittsburgh in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Energy is one of seven industrial sectors that Ansys serves, he said. Although solar is currently a relatively small part of the business, it is growing and Haidari expects faster growth in Asia, where much of the manufacturing is being done, and Europe, where a lot of innovative research and design work is being carried out, than in the USA. He sees two main areas where Ansys simulations can make a difference. Te first is in the manufacturing process; for example, multi-phase fluid mechanics of the design of

JUNE/JULY 2013 45


Simulation Research

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