Parabolic Trough Collector: Working, Benefits, and Drawbacks

From time immemorial, the sun has been a great source of power! What does it mean? Well, it means that people have been using irradiance from the sun to prepare meals, stay warm, and dry garments for many centuries. 

Today, the sun’s rays produce solar power, which we can capture in various ways. A Parabolic trough collector, for instance, is used for this purpose in solar energy units.

Before we get into the details of a parabolic trough, let us first define a parabola in general to give you a context. 

A parabola is a curve where any point drawn on it gives you the same distance from a fixed line and point. A parabolic trough collector uses the same principle.

Parabolic trough collectors are employed in solar paneling. The curved shape of the mirror helps to focus all the light rays from the sun at one location. 

Irrespective of where the rays fall on the mirror, they will always be reflected towards the centre. It follows the path of the sun from east to west. 

A key feature of concentrated solar power (CSP) technology is utilising concentrated sunlight. Concentrated solar power may produce solar energy, focusing the sun’s beams onto a specific region using reflective surfaces. 

When sunlight is focused and transformed into heat, electricity is produced. This electrical energy powers a generator. 

Let’s spill out more beans now – dive in!

What are the Primary Parts of a Parabolic Trough Collector?

Scroll down to learn about the primary parts of a parabolic collector and enhance your knowledge! The following are the critical components of a parabolic trough:

  1. The foundation and metallic framework: This supports the trough collectors and fastens them to the ground so that the entire apparatus can sustain the weight of the collector.
  2. Parabolic Trough Reflector: This is the collector’s focusing component. It transmits the sunlight to the receiving tube by reflecting it. Silver and aluminium are the two most common reflective materials utilised, often mounted on a glass surface.
  3. Receiving tube or absorber: This device transforms focused light energy into thermal energy in a heat transfer fluid. To optimise the process of converting energy, it offers only certain functions.
  4. Tracking devices and Transmission system: Collectors shift such that the orientation of the sun’s energy is at the entrance. As the sun moves, a tracking device is employed to adjust and concentrate the collection.
  5. Operating fluid: Thermal oil is the primary operating fluid in many Solar-driven systems for heat transfer. But other substances, like water or steam, can also be applied. This fluid provides the heat energy needed to create the steam. In turn, the steam helps operate the turbine and ultimately produces electricity.

How Does a Parabolic Trough Collector Make Power?

It’s curiosity that inspires people to learn about how parabolic collectors make power. If you’re one of those people, you’ll love us for this bonus section!

The parabolic collectors work as described below: 

  1. Heat transfer occurs when the solar panels warm the operating fluid, such as thermal oil. To create high-pressure steam, this transfer fluid is circulated through several absorbers. In a typical steam generator, the heat contained in this steam is turned into electricity. The fundamental structure is identical to that of a solar cooker.
  2. The functioning of these solar power plants is also comparable to that of other power plants. They use heat to create steam, which powers engines and produces energy. The way that each power plant obtains heat differs from the other.

What are the Pros and Cons of a Parabolic Trough Collector? 

Listed below are some of the advantages and disadvantages:


  1. The most significant benefit of a parabolic trough collectors is that it’s inexpensive. Solar parabolic troughs are now one of the cheapest devices to produce power from the Sun.
  2. They create extremely high temperatures, which are useful for producing steam. At night, power can be supplied by the reserves stored in heavy, insulated tanks.
  3. Solar Photovoltaic is expensive, while parabolic troughs, which use cheaper reflectors, may span a larger area.


  1. Sun tracking is required to sustain solar collecting using parabolic trough collectors. Otherwise, the production would decrease. This raises the expense and upkeep associated with movable structures.
  2. A high concentration of sunlight is required for a parabolic trough collector to function properly. In scattered light, sunlight cannot be focused effectively, and production drops substantially. Solar cells can produce energy even in dispersed light, but solar parabolic troughs cannot.
  3. As discussed earlier, solar photovoltaics (PV) may be placed on roofs. However, parabolic trough collectors demand a considerable quantity of land.
  4. Molten salts freeze at high temperatures ranging from 120oC to 220oC. It means that there is a slight chance of solidification which might disrupt the factory’s functioning.


A solar collector is a device that absorbs solar radiation and transforms it into electricity or heat energy. The materials used in solar collectors vary in order to maximise the absorption of solar energy. 

One such type of collector is the parabolic concentrator. It contains reflective material that returns solar energy onto a specially constructed absorber tube running along its centre.

The reflective material is mainly made from silver or aluminium atop a large parabolic mirror. 


Q. What is the primary drawback of a parabolic trough collector?

Sun tracking is required to sustain solar harvesting using parabolic trough collectors, or else, the production would decrease. This raises the expense and upkeep needed with movable structures. 

A high concentration of sunlight is required for a parabolic trough collector to function properly. This is another disadvantage.

Q. What kind of system is utilised with a parabolic trough collector?

The parabolic trough system is the most typical Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) system. 

It comprises troughs or reflective surfaces to focus solar light onto receiving tubes positioned at the centre of the apparatus. 

The heat from the sun is subsequently transformed into steam, which powers a turbine that produces electricity. CSP technology makes advantage of concentrated sunlight.

Q. What is the importance of solar collectors?

Before you install a solar collector, it is crucial to learn about its importance. The process of turning sunlight into energy begins with collectors. 

They must be created focusing on light efficiency and affordable manufacturing, setup, and maintenance costs.