Molten-salt thermocline-based systems are a low-cost option for single-tank thermal energy storage in concentrated solar power plants. Due to the high variability in solar energy availability, these energy storage devices are subject to transient heat loads during charging that can affect the storage efficiency. Numerical simulations were conducted to analyze the stability characteristics of a lab-scale thermocline tank subject to a flow disturbance during charging under different operating temperatures. The charging process was first simulated at a constant Reynolds number for three different Atwood numbers; a stably stratified fluid layer develops inside the storage tank in all cases. A flow disturbance was then introduced at the inlet of the stratified thermocline tank by inserting colder fluid for a short period of time. The disturbance interacts with the thermocline and causes oscillations and mixing. The thermocline oscillations are under-damped and lead to an increase in thermocline region thickness. The transient behavior of the thermocline and the decay rate in its oscillations were analyzed; the damping time depends on the Atwood number. The persistence of flow disturbance effects during long-term cyclical operation was also investigated. Several charge/discharge cycles were simulated at constant Reynolds number to obtain a time-periodic thermal response for each Atwood number. The characteristic flow disturbance was introduced at the inlet during a single charging process, and the thermocline region was observed during several subsequent charge/discharge cycles to assess the long-term temporal attenuation of the disturbance. The thermocline almost fully recovers to the time-periodic behavior after a single cycle.


Solar thermal energy storage, Thermocline, Rayleigh–Taylor instability, Thermal storage efficiency

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S. Hatte, C. Mira-Hernández, Advaith S., A. Tinaikara, U.K. Chetia, Manu K.V., K. Chattopadhyay , J.A. Weibel, S.V. Garimella, V. Srinivasan, and S. Basu, “Short and Long-Term Sensitivity of Lab-Scale Thermocline Based Thermal Storage to Flow Disturbances,” Applied Thermal Engineering, Vol. 109, Part B, pp. 936-348, 2016.