The growing interest in large-scale solar power production has led to a renewed exploration of thermal storage technologies. In a thermocline storage system, heat transfer fluid (HTF) from the collection field is simultaneously stored at both excited and dead thermal states inside a single tank by exploiting buoyancy forces. A granulated porous medium included in the tank provides additional thermal mass for storage and reduces the volume of HTF required. While the thermocline tank offers a low-cost storage option, thermal ratcheting of the tank wall (generated by reorientation of the granular material from continuous thermal cycling) poses a significant design concern. A comprehensive simulation of the 170 MWht thermocline tank used in conjunction with the Solar One pilot plant is performed with a multidimensional two-temperature computational fluid dynamics model to investigate ratcheting potential. In operation from 1982 to 1986, this tank was subject to extensive instrumentation, including multiple strain gages along the tank wall to monitor hoop stress. Temperature profiles along the wall material are extracted from the simulation results to compute hoop stress via finite element models and compared with the original gage data. While the strain gages experienced large uncertainty, the maximum predicted hoop stress agrees to within 6.8% of the maximum stress recorded by the most reliable strain gages.


thermocline, thermal ratcheting, Solar One, concentrating solar thermal power

Date of this Version



DOI: 10.1115/1.4007665

Published in:

S. Flueckiger, Z. Yang and S. V. Garimella, “Thermomechanical Simulation of the Solar One Thermocline Storage Tank,” ASME Journal of Solar Energy Engineering, Vol. 134, 041014, 2012.