Solar electric generation systems (SEGS) currently in operation are based on parabolic trough solar collectors using synthetic oil heat transfer fluid in the collector loop to transfer thermal energy to a Rankine cycle turbine via a heat exchanger. To improve performance and reduce costs direct steam generation in the collector has been proposed. In this paper the efficiency of parabolic trough collectors is determined for operation with synthetic oil (current SEGS plants) and water (future proposal) as the working fluids. The thermal performance of a trough collector using Syltherm 800 oil as the working fluid has been measured at Sandia National Laboratory and is used in this study to develop a model of the thermal losses from the collector. The model is based on absorber wall temperature rather than fluid bulk temperature so it can be used to predict the performance of the collector with any working fluid. The effects of absorber emissivity and internal working fluid convection effects are evaluated. An efficiency equation for trough collectors is developed and used in a simulation model to evaluate the performance of direct steam generation collectors for different radiation conditions and different absorber tube sizes. Phase change in the direct steam generation collector is accounted for by separate analysis of the liquid, boiling and dry steam zones.