As one of the most widely used units in water cooling systems, the closed wet cooling towers (CWCTs) have two typical counter-flow constructions, in which the spray water flows from the top to the bottom, and the moist air and cooling water flow in the opposite direction vertically (parallel) or horizontally (cross), respectively. This study aims to present a simplified calculation method for conveniently and accurately analyzing the thermal performance of the two types of counter-flow CWCTs, viz. the parallel counter-flow CWCT (PCFCWCT) and the cross counter-flow CWCT (CCFCWCT). A simplified cooling capacity model that just includes two characteristic parameters is developed. The Levenberg–Marquardt method is employed to determine the model parameters by curve fitting of experimental data. Based on the proposed model, the predicted outlet temperatures of the process water are compared with the measurements of a PCFCWCT and a CCFCWCT, respectively, reported in the literature. The results indicate that the predicted values agree well with the experimental data in previous studies. The maximum absolute errors in predicting the process water outlet temperatures are 0.20 and 0.24 °C for the PCFCWCT and CCFCWCT, respectively. These results indicate that the simplified method is reliable for performance prediction of counter-flow CWCTs. Although the flow patterns of the two towers are different, the variation trends of thermal performance are similar to each other under various operating conditions. The inlet air wet-bulb temperature, inlet cooling water temperature, air flow rate, and cooling water flow rate are crucial for determining the cooling capacity of a counter-flow CWCT, while the cooling tower effectiveness is mainly determined by the flow rates of air and cooling water. Compared with the CCFCWCT, the PCFCWCT is much more applicable in a large-scale cooling water system, and the superiority would be amplified when the scale of water distribution system increases. Without multiple iterative calculations and extensive experimental data, the simplified method could be used to effectively analyze the thermal performance of counter-flow CWCTs in operation. It is useful for optimization operation of counter-flow CWCTs such that to improve the energy efficiency of the overall cooling water system.
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