Cyclo Drives for Power Industry Solar Trackers

The efficiency of both photovoltaic and thermal solar power generation depends on the ability to move solar panels or mirrors to very accurately follow the movement of the sun across the sky. Cyclo drives & gearboxes are an excellent solution for electro-mechanical and hydraulic solar tracker systems to ensure that solar photovoltaic panels or reflective mirrors are able to very accurately track the path of the sun for optimal absorption or reflection of solar energy.

Cyclo Drives for Power Industry Solar Trackers

What is a solar tracker?

A solar tracker is a mechanism that moves solar panels or mirrors to follow the path of the sun’s movement during the day. This maximizes the capture of sunlight for power generation, either by photovoltaic panels for direct electrical conversion or for reflection onto a central tower in solar thermal power generators.

What are five features of solar trackers used for power generation?

  1. There are two types of solar tracker: single axis, and dual axis.
  2. Single axis trackers follow the movement of the sun across the sky
  3. Dual axis trackers track the movement of the sun across the sky and also make adjustments for the height of the sun as it moves overhead.
  4. Single axis trackers are simpler and cheaper, but dual axis trackers are more efficient, although they require more sophisticated control systems.
  5. Both types of solar tracker need to operate with high precision for maximum efficiency, which is what makes cyclo drives the best option for powering solar trackers.

What are the two types of solar power generation?

There are two forms of solar power generation that are commonly used today at an industrial level. The most well known is photovoltaic generation, which converts sunlight into electrical energy directly, and is effective from very small to very large scale installations, and can be achieved with no solar tracking, single or dual axis tracking.

The other method of power production is solar thermal power generation, in which solar energy is concentrated by mirrors onto steam pipework in troughs with single-axis solar tracking or by dual axis tracking onto towers to melt salts that transfer the heat energy to drive steam powered electrical turbines, or to directly power Stirling engines at the focal point of parabolic dishes.

At a commercial scale, both types of solar power generation require accurate solar tracking to make them more efficient and increase their cost-effectiveness. Accurate solar tracking depends on the use of precision gearboxes and drive motors across solar arrays that can be extremely large scale, often involving the coordinated movement of many thousands of mirror elements.

Cyclo gearboxes and cyclo drives are perfectly suited to both single and dual axis solar tracking functions, being capable of very fine and accurate control by design, as well as rugged enough to offer a low maintenance long-life solution for operation in the high temperature and remote environments that are commonly used for large scale solar power generation.

Large scale photovoltaic power generation using a single axis solar tracking system

Large scale photovoltaic power generation using a single axis solar tracking system

n large-scale photovoltaic power generation, a single axis solar tracker like the one pictured above, will use ring gear and powerful motor drives to move the entire solar array and keep it facing the sun as it moves across the sky. Rugged, environmentally sealed cyclo gearboxes are an excellent choice for precisely controlling the movement of these very heavy photovoltaic panel assemblies with servo-like precision and zero backlash.

Solar thermal power stations rely on accurate solar tracking to function

Solar thermal power stations rely on accurate solar tracking to function

Molten salt solar thermal power stations like the one pictured above in Dunhuang City, Gansu province, China, rely on very accurately focused mirrors being kept in continuous movement on a very large scale. The more accurate the tracking system, the more efficiently the solar array is able to concentrate the solar energy for optimal power generation. This is an application where the pinpoint precision of cyclo drives and lack of backlash is a critical asset for maximizing efficiency.

Why are cyclo gearboxes the best choice for solar trackers?

Why are cyclo gearboxes the best choice for solar trackers?

There are 4 main reasons that make cyclo gearboxes the best choice to drive solar trackers in solar power generation:

  1. High precision movement with zero backlash for accurate tracking of solar movement
  2. Efficiency gains from precise position control
  3. Achieves the very high precision required for efficient solar thermal energy generation
  4. Robust, compact, high torque designs for long life with reduced maintenance requirements
  1. High precision with zero backlash: As the sun gradually moves across the sky, the perfect photovoltaic solar tracker should keep pace with this movement without interruption, and with extreme precision. This is because by orienting the solar panels toward the sun, solar trackers optimize the capture of solar energy, resulting in higher energy output compared to fixed systems. Cyclo drives are ideally suited for this type of very precise, zero backlash, operation.
  2. Efficiency gains from precise position control: In domestic and smaller agricultural and commercial roof-top photovoltaic systems, solar tracking may not be cost-effective as it requires additional control and monitoring systems, but in large scale solar power generation, the efficiency gains that cyclo drives offer in precisely tracking the path of the sun to maximize energy input leads to correspondingly significant gains in revenue.
  3. Precise enough for solar thermal energy generation: For solar thermal energy, solar trackers are essential for keeping the reflected rays of the sun focused on the central heating tower that receives and stores the heat energy from the sun. Solar thermal power stations cannot function without accurate solar tracking, and again, the more accurate the tracking, the better the power output. Cyclo gearboxes are the best option for solar thermal as well as solar photovoltaic tracking systems.
  4. Robust, compact, high torque designs: An additional benefit of cyclo drives for solar tracking applications is their very high power output in compact formats. This may allow designs that have a larger number of solar collectors on a single mobile structure to be driven by a single, smaller, more cost-effective, cyclo gearbox. The shared internal loading of cyclo drives gives them higher shock load resistance and high torque start-stop capabilities than the more fragile gear trains in linear and planetary systems.

Efficiency challenges for solar energy production need cyclo drives for better solar tracking solutions

There continues to be a strong market demand for more efficient ways of capturing solar energy as part of a movement towards sustainable energy generation. The use of cyclo drives to maximize the efficiency of solar tracking systems is a simple way of increasing the competitiveness of any solar energy installation.

This is because the solar energy market is becoming more mature, and the availability and government approval of solar energy generation sites is becoming more difficult as people, especially in more urban countries, compete with solar panels and mirrors for access to land for building or agriculture.

Photovoltaic solar panel energy efficiency has improved over time, but it is less efficient than wind generation, and power output drops significantly if the panels are not accurately aligned to the position of the sun. Continuous, efficient, solar tracking using cyclo gearboxes provides the most reliable way to ensure maximum solar energy throughput at all times of day.

Contact us to discuss how our precision cyclo gearbox designs could be the solution you are looking for to maximize the efficiency and energy competitiveness of your solar power generation system by combining solar tracking accuracy with reliable, trouble-free operation.