The complicated, unpredictable, and often chaotic hot water usage pattern of typical households severely limits the effectiveness and efficiency of traditional solar hot water heater systems. Similar to large scale concentrating solar power plants, the use of thermal energy storage techniques to store collected solar energy as latent heat has the potential to improve the efficiency of solar hot water systems. Rather than being used to produce steam to generate electricity, the stored thermal energy would be used to heat water on-demand well after the sun sets. The scope of this thesis was to design, analyze, build, and test a proof of concept prototype for an on-demand solar water heater for residential use with latent heat thermal energy storage. The proof of concept system will be used for future research and can be quickly reconfigured making it ideal for use as a test bed. This thesis outlines the analysis, design, and testing processes used to model, build, and evaluate the performance of the prototype system.
The prototype system developed to complete this thesis was designed using systems engineering principles and consists of several main subsystems. These subsystems include a parabolic trough concentrating solar collector, a phase change material reservoir including heat exchangers, a heat transfer fluid reservoir, and a plumbing system. The system functions by absorbing solar thermal energy in a heat transfer fluid using the solar collector and transferring the absorbed thermal energy to the phase change material for storage. The system was analyzed using a mathematical model created in MATLAB and experimental testing was used to verify that the system functioned as designed. The mathematical model was designed to be adaptable for evaluating different system configurations for future research. The results of the analysis as well as the experimental tests conducted, verify that the proof of concept system is functional and capable of producing hot water using stored thermal energy. This will allow the system to function as a test bed for future research and long-term performance testing to evaluate changes in the performance of the phase change material over time. With additional refinement the prototype system has the potential to be developed into a commercially viable product for use in residential homes.