The Solar Tracker team was formed in the fall of 2005 from five students in an ME design team, and a Smart House liaison. We continued the work of a previous solar tracker group. The task was to design a prototype tracking device to align solar panels optimally to the sun as it moves over the course of the day. The implementation of such a system dramatically increases the efficiency of solar panels used to power the Smart House. This report examines the process of designing and constructing the prototype, the experiences and problems encountered, and suggestions for continuing the project
Solar tracking is the process of varying the angle of solar panels and collectors to take advantage of the full amount of the sun’s energy. This is done by rotating panels to be perpendicular to the sun’s angle of incidence. Initial tests in industry suggest that this process can increase the efficiency of a solar power system by up to 50%. Given those gains, it is an attractive way to enhance an existing solar power system. The goal is to build a rig that will accomplish the solar tracking and realize the maximum increase in efficiency. The ultimate goal is that the project will be cost effective – that is, the gains received by increased efficiency will more than offset the one time cost of developing the rig over time. In addition to the functional goals, the Smart House set forth the other following goals for our project: it must not draw external power (self-sustaining), it must be aesthetically pleasing, and it must be weatherproof.
The design of our solar tracker consists of three components: the frame, the sensor, and the drive system. Each was carefully reviewed and tested, instituting changes and improvements along the design process. The frame for the tracker is an aluminum prismatic frame supplied by the previous solar tracking group. It utilizes an ‘A-frame’ design with the rotating axle in the middle. Attached to the bottom of this square channel axle is the platform which will house the main solar collecting panels. The frame itself is at an angle to direct the panels toward the sun (along with the inclination of the roof). Its rotation tracks the sun from east to west during the day.
The sensor design for the system uses two small solar panels that lie on the same plane as the collecting panels. These sensor panels have mirrors vertically attached between them so that, unless the mirror faces do not receive any sun, they are shading one of the panels, while the other is receiving full sunlight. Our sensor relies on this difference in light, which results in a large impedance difference across the panels, to drive the motor in the proper direction until again, the mirrors are not seeing any sunlight, at which point both solar panels on the sensor receive equal sunlight and no power difference is seen.
After evaluation of the previous direct drive system for the tracker, we designed a belt system that would be easier to maintain in the case of a failure. On one end of the frame is a motor that has the drive pulley attached to its output shaft. The motor rotates the drive belt which then rotates the pulley on the axle. This system is simple and easily disassembled. It is easy to interchange motors as needed for further testing and also allows for optimization of the final gear ratio for response of the tracker.
2. Concepts and Research 观念和研究
2.1 Tracking Type 跟踪模式
Our group used a brainstorming approach to concept generation. We thought of ideas for different solar tracking devices, which proved difficult at times due to the existing frame and concept presented to us by Smart House. Other concepts were generated through research of pre-existing solar tracking devices. Originally our concept generation was geared towards creating a completely new solar tracker outside of the constraints of the previous structure given to us by Smart House. This initial brainstorming generated many concepts. The first one was a uni-axial tracking system that would track the sun east to west across the sky during the course of a day and return at the end of the day. This concept presented the advantage of simplicity and presented us with the option to use materials from the previous structure (which was also intended to be a uni-axial tracker) in construction. Another more complex concept was to track the sun bi-axially which would involve tracking the sun both east to west and throughout the seasons. The advantage of this concept was a more efficient harvesting of solar energy. The third concept was to only track throughout the seasons. This would provide small efficiency gains but nowhere near the gain provided by tracking east to west.
The different structures we came up with to accomplish tracking motion included a rotating center axle with attached panels, hydraulic or motorized lifts which would move the main panel in the direction of the sun, and a robotic arm which would turn to face the sun. The clear efficiency gains coupled with the simplicity of design of the uni-axial tracking system and the existence of usable parts (i.e. motor and axle) for the rotating center axle structure, led us to the choice of the East to West tracking, rotating center axle concept.
2.2 Structure 结构
Once the method of motion was chosen, it was necessary to generate concepts for the structural support of the axle. Support could be provided by the triangular prismatic structure which was attempted by the previous Smart House solar tracker group or through the use of columns which would support the axis on either side. While the prismatic structure presented the advantage of mobility and an existing frame, the columns would have provided us with ease of construction, simple geometric considerations, and ease of prospective mounting on the roof. Due to the heightened intensity of time considerations, the previous financial commitment to the prismatic structure by Smart House, and our limited budget, the presence of the pre-existing frame proved to be the most important factor in deciding on a structure. Due to these factors we decided to work within the frame which was provided to us from the previous Solar Tracker group.
2.2 Tracking Motion 跟踪运动
Once the structural support was finalized we needed to decide on a means to actualize this motion. We decided between sensed motion, which would sense the sun’s position and move to follow it, and continuous clock type motion, which would track the sun based on its pre-determined position in the sky. We chose the concept of continuous motion based on its perceived accuracy and the existence of known timing technology. During the evaluation stage, however, we realized that continuous motion would prove difficult. One reason was the inability to draw constant voltage and current from the solar panels necessary to sustain consistent motion, resulting in the necessity for sensing the rotation position to compensate. Continuous motion also required nearly constant power throughout the day, which would require a mechanism to store power. Aside from these considerations, the implementation of a timing circuit and location sensing device seemed daunting. After consulting Dr. Rhett George, we decided on a device using two panels and shading for sensed motion.
3. Detailed Design 详细设计
3.1 Frame 结构
The frame was designed from one inch square aluminum tubing, and a five foot long, two inch square tube for the axle. It is constructed with a rigid base and triangular prismatic frame with side supporting bars that provide stability. The end of the axle is attached to a system of pulleys which are driven by the motor. It is easily transported by removing the sides of the base and folding the structure.
译：框架的是以一英寸的方形铝管为油管，以及以5英尺长、 2英寸的方管为车轴。它是一个刚性基层和三角棱柱形框 。年底前轮轴是重视制度的滑轮，其中主要是驱动电动机。这是很容易运送消除双方的基地和折叠结构。
3.2 Sensor 传感器
Our sensing panels are bolted to the bottom of the main solar panel frame and braced underneath with half inch L-brackets. The mirrors are attached to the inside of the sensing panels and braced by L-brackets as well. The whole structure attaches easily to the main panel frame which is attached to the main axle using four 2-inch U-bolts. A third panel is bolted to the structure to return the main panels direction towards the horizon of sunrise.
3.3 How the Sensor Works 如何传感器工作
Our sensor creates movement of the motor by shading one of the panels and amplifying the other when the system is not directly facing the sun. The two sensing panels are mounted parallel to the main panels symmetrically about the center axle with two mirrors in between them. The shading on one of the panels creates high impedance, while the amplified panel powers the motor. This happens until the panels receive the same amount of sunlight and balance each other out (i.e. when the sensing panels and main panels are facing the sun.). We initially attempted using a series configuration to take advantage of the voltage difference when one of the panels was shaded (Appendix C). This difference, however, was not large enough to drive the motor. We subsequently attempted a parallel configuration which would take advantage of the impedance of the shaded panel (Appendix C) and provide the current needed to drive the motor. Once the sensing mechanism has rotated from sunrise to sunset, the third panel, which is usually shaded, uses sunlight from the sunrise of the next day to power the motor to return the panels towards the direction of the sun.
译：我们的一个调查小组发现传感器造成运动的电机遮荫，并在其他的很多时候，该系统并非直接面向太阳。两个传感板装在平行主面板左右对称的中心轴与两面镜子之间。遮荫对其中的面板制造了高阻抗，这种情况直到面板得到同样数额的阳光和平衡 （即当传感面板及主要面板都面临着外）。我们最初试图用一系列配置，以充分利用电压差时，这里有其中一个小组的阴影（附录C ） 。这种差异也不是大到足以驱动马达。其后，我们试图平行配置，其中将利用阻抗的林荫道小组（附录C ） ，并提供所需的电流驱动马达。从日出到日落一旦感应机制有旋转， 利用太阳光从日出的第二天功率电机归还板方向的太阳，第三个小组通常会被填满。
4. Conclusion 结论
Throughout this project we enlisted the support of multiple resources (i.e. ME and EE professors, previous Smart House teams). We learned early on that a clear problem definition was essential to efficient design and progress. We struggled initially as we tried to design a tracking device that was different from the previous solar tracker group’s attempt, without fully weighing the size of their investment and the advantages of using the existing frame for our purposes. As we worked with the fixed frame construction from the previous group we learned that variability of design is key, especially when in the initial phases of prototyping. After many setbacks in testing of the solar panels, we learned that when working with solar panels, much time needs to be set aside for testing due to the unpredictability of the weather.
The actual implementation of using the prototype in its intended location on the Smart House roof requires weather-proofing to protect the wiring and electrical connections from the elements, housing for the motor, a bracing system to attach the structure to the roof, and possible redesign to eliminate excess height and simplify overall geometry. The efficiency of the sensor system could be improved by widening the mirrors or by placing blinders along the sides of the panels to decrease the effects of reflected and refracted light incident on the shaded sensing panel.