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Distributed collector solar fields are spatially distributed engineering systems, which aim at collecting and storing energy from solar radiation. They are formed by mirrors which concentrate direct incident sun light in a pipe where a fluid, able to accumulate thermic energy, flows. From the control point of view, the objective considered here consists of making the outlet oil temperature to track a reference signal by manipulating the oil flow, in the possible presence of fast disturbances caused by passing clouds. Although this plant may be successfully controlled by methods assuming it to be modeled as a "black box" lumped parameter system, the point of view advocated in this paper is that explicit consideration of its distributed character leads to an increased control performance. In this respect, the contributions of this paper are twofold: First, a controller relying on variable sampling is developed. This is derived from the partial differential equation describing the oil temperature evolution in time and space on the field and has the effect of linearizing the plant model. Second, the resulting performance is illustrated by means of experiments performed in an actual solar field. The experiments reported show that it is possible to make fast temperature setpoint changes, with reduced overshoot. The ideas presented are applicable to other types of industrial processes, involving transport phenomena.
Date of Publication: Sept. 2003