Multi-temperature-level systems enlarge the prospects and degrees of freedom for an effective design and an environment-friendly use of energy. Based on a general thermodynamic model of three-thermal cycles and finite thermal capacity of the heat sources, this paper aims at the analysis and the performance optimization of these systems by considering the influence of irreversibility. Suitable dimensionless parameters for an overall optimization are introduced and their influence on the cycle efficiency is investigated. This approach identifies the limitations imposed to the physical processes by accounting for the inevitable dissipation due to their constrained duration and intensity, and constitutes a general thermodynamic criterion for the optimization of three-thermal irreversible systems. Dependence on the main factors is highlighted in a way that shows how to change them in order to improve the overall efficiency. Under this point of view, the analysis evaluates COP improvements and can be used to perform plant diagnostics, besides predicting the system performance. The use of this criterion is exemplified for the absorption chiller application case.
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