Optical design for high-efficiency central tower receivers

Research areas

Temporary Supervisor

Dr John Pye


Central tower solar-thermal systems use an array of mirrors 'heliostats' to direct solar radiation at a 'receiver' placed on top of a large tower. Typically a heat transfer medium, such as water, molten salt or sodium is passed through tubes in the receiver, and transports the heat for downstream storage and power generation. Design of receivers is balancing act that depends on the optical performance and layout of the heliostat field, together with the optical properties of the receiver absorbing surface and the shape and size of the receiver. In this project, we aim to implement a novel approach to simplify and speed up this design process, by adopting a simplified representation of the heliostat field optics. The project builds on earlier work using an open-source Python-based ray tracing code called Tracer (by Yosef Meller, Univ of Tel Aviv), which we have recently been extending and improving.


* read in a heliostat field layout from a text file * calculate the field performance using accurate ray-tracing * reduce the field performance to simplified model * demonstrate equivalence of the simplified model to within a certain tolerance * demonstrate faster ray-tracing based evaluation of several simple/initial candidate receiver designs.


First-year physics and mathematics are sufficient for this topic. Python programming experience (eg as taught at ANU) is a greatly preferable, but strength in other object-oriented programming may be sufficient. You should be prepared to do the work in a Linux environment -- it definitely makes it easier to muster all the required software tools.

Background Literature

General overview of solar thermal (read online via ANU library website): Lovegrove & Stein, 2012. Concentrating solar power technology: principles, developments and applications. Woodhead Publishing. http://library.anu.edu.au/record=b3426605 Original webite for 'Tracer': http://yosefm.github.io/tracer/ Most recent code (a fork of a fork): https://github.com/jx1a0/Tracer Documentation about using NumPy for high-performance numerical work with Python: http://scipy-lectures.github.io/ Some general papers on ray tracing and optical analysis for concentrating solar thermal applications: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.solener.2007.08.004 http://infoserve.sandia.gov/sand_doc/2008/088053.pdf Another general solar thermal source (a bit dated however): http://www.powerfromthesun.net/


You will develop important skills in numerical programming, 3D graphics, vector algebra. You will gain exposure to geometrical optics and core tools for development and design of optical systems. Ability to design a core part of a modern renewable energy technology, the solar thermal concentrator.

Updated:  1 June 2019/Responsible Officer:  Dean, CECS/Page Contact:  CECS Marketing