answered here with pictures
Single-Axis Solar tracking By SETh MaSIa
Seth masia is managing
editor of SOLAR TODA Y.
Contact him at smasia@
To boost daily output of a photovoltaic (PV) panel by
about 30 percent, it can be made to pivot, following
the sun’s progress across the sky. Near the equator,
where days are of nearly equal length through the year, a
simple timer or clockwork mechanism can do this. In temperate latitudes, it’s better to use a servo motor controlled
by an aiming circuit.
The aiming circuit uses two photosensitive cells pointing east and west, or separated by a vertical panel that can
shade one or the other cell. The cells are wired together
so that when light falls equally on them, they produce no
output voltage. When one cell produces a stronger current,
the motor gets a signal to rotate the panel in that direction.
When the current equalizes, the panel is pointed straight at
the sun and the motor shuts off.
In large arrays, rows of PV panels can be mounted on
horizontal pipes laid north to south. The control motor
rotates the whole row around its mounting pipe from east
in the morning to flat at noon to west in late afternoon.
Conergy’s 1.6-megawatt array at Manteca, Calif., is laid out
this way. David Vincent, Conergy’s project development manager for the Western United States, said,
“Instead of using an aiming circuit, we control tracking with a computer that knows where the sun is all
the time. That works better for us because it knows
where the sun is regardless of weather conditions.
When the sun reappears, the modules are pointing
in the right direction.”
Early and late, when the sun strikes the array at a
low angle, each row of modules casts a long shadow.
Rows must be located far enough away from each
other to be out of their neighbors’ shadows. For this
reason, a single-axis tracking array covers about 20
percent more real estate than a fixed-mount array
of equal area. At the Manteca facility, Conergy programmed the computer to “backtrack” the modules:
They lie flat at dawn and dusk, thus minimizing shadows. Once the sun climbs high enough that shading
is no longer a problem, the modules rotate to the 45
degree position and begin to track.
Tracking isn’t practical for most rooftop arrays,
Vincent said, because of structural issues. Tracking
systems weigh about 20 percent more than fixed
racks, and because they’re taller, they “sail” in the
wind, creating a torque at the base of each mounting
post. “Most roofs can’t handle it,” he said.
Dish collectors must point straight at the sun and
thus need two-axis tracking, which adjusts automatically for seasonal sun height as well as for daily traverse. In a flat-plate installation, a second axis typically boosts output by only 6 percent and is not often
Parabolic troughs used for concentrated solar
thermal arrays are aimed with single-axis systems.
Support structures must be stiff to keep the troughs
precisely focused. ST
i LLuStrAtioN By kurt StruvE