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With fuel prices skyrocketing, global warming eating away at another polar bear’s home. And the air quality getting poorer – the effects of climate change are substantial. Solar energy, especially, has proven to be a popular, well-effective power source, increasing in popularity and use. But as with any good thing, there are shortcomings with the solar array system. Photovoltaic panels are oriented to harness the maximum amount of sunlight possible. But while the sun moves along, the panels (traditionally) do not. This concern has led to the ultimate design and development solution for solar efficiency: designing an automatic solar tracking system.

We’re all astronomers when we’re living on the third rock from the sun!

As humans, our very existence on earth is dependent on the giant ball of fire in space. The essential astronomical object – the sun. North, West, South, or East? Orientation of the photovoltaic panels really does matter. When it comes to harnessing the power of the sun, PV panels are ideally encouraged to be fixed true south for optimum solar radiance. However, with varying site conditions panels cannot always be placed as such. With no other option but to make do, these other orientations result in considerable output loss (15% and more). Solutions for improving solar efficiency are thus the most important factor in modern solar system design and development.

The defining factor in solar yield and efficiency is the sun’s arc – or the path of the sun. As we all know, as the earth orbits around the sun, it rotates. During the earth’s orbit, to us down below, it appears that the sun takes an arc-like path (throughout the sky) that dictates the amount of ‘daytime’ we experience, the seasonal changes we encounter and consequently, the amount of daylight obtained.

How does the “sun’s arc” affect solar panels?

In layman’s terms, this apparent motion of the sun changes the angle at which light strikes the earth and consequently, the solar panels. Picture the angled surface of the PV panel. As the sun’s rays strike the absorbing surface in a perpendicular fashion. The power density and solar intensity are at their peak. Now, as the sun “moves”, the angle at which the rays hit the surface, changes – reducing the solar intensity on the panel.

The solution – designing an automatic solar tracking system!

Remaining fixated while the sun moves – well, that’s the panel’s main issue, right? Then let’s move the panel along with the sun’s motion throughout the day! If we can maintain the perpendicular profile of the solar panel to the sun, we will be able to extract the maximum amount of energy! The concept might seem relatively simple, but the technology that goes behind designing an automatic solar tracking system is far from simple.

An automatic solar tracking system is a device that adjusts solar panels, reflectors, and relevant optical devices in relation to the sun. they are alignment devices that orient solar collection systems for optimum energy harnessing. It possesses active sensors that track and monitors the available sunlight and subsequently, rotate the solar panels to maintain the maximum sunlight intensity.

Solar trackers come in a variety of configurations. From prototypes understudy and innovation to large-scale systems already well-received and used. Depending on local conditions there are two kinds of solar trackers – single and dual-axis. Single-axis trackers have either:

  • A horizontal axis – suited for tropical regions with high noon sun conditions and short days.
  • A vertical axis – suited for regions of high latitude with longer summer days.

Dual-axis trackers utilize both horizontal and vertical axes, allowing them to wholly track sun movement regardless of region and location.

A hybrid supersystem: components of automatic solar tracking systems

This technological achievement consists of a system that incorporates both software and hardware. Sensing devices are integral to the system as they monitor light intensity and convey its data to the sun-tracking algorithm that moves the solar panel towards the sun. When designing an automatic solar tracking system, factors like pressure, temperature, humidity also influence efficiency and power output – sensors are used here also. Other components include electrical/hydraulic positioning mechanisms, drive mechanisms, and the core control unit that ties it all together.

Because of technological advancements, it is certain that designing an automatic solar tracking system for solar efficiency will become more accessible in the future!

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