Building cooling heating power (BCHP) systems as a kind of distributed energy resource have shown a great potential in improving energy efficiency and meeting multiple energy demands in buildings. In this paper, we present a BCHP system driven by solar energy with flat-plate solar collectors. A modified system efficiency is introduced to evaluate the whole day performance of the system more accurately. Based on the mathematical models and simulation platform established, we have investigated the influences of some key thermodynamic parameters, namely condensation temperature, turbine inlet temperature and turbine inlet pressure on the system performance. In order to find the optimum combination of these parameters that leads to the best performance, we have performed parametric optimization by means of the genetic algorithm. Results indicate that the best performance and the highest efficiency of the system are achieved when the working fluid reaches its saturated state and the corresponding efficiencies of the system operating in the combined heating power mode, the combined cooling power mode and the power production mode turn out to be 19.10%, 27.24% and 10.47%, respectively. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.