Article by: Kuebler Inc.
As solar energy continues to grow as a modern-day source of power, components must be designed to ensure continuous and efficient operation of the energy generation process. Because heliostats are often placed in remote desert areas, they are exposed to a number of harsh environmental factors, such as high temperatures during the day, dust exposure and daily temperature swings.
To keep the system running smoothly, encoders, which are used in the control of the mirrors, must combine ruggedness with innovative technologies, yielding a reliable product that can perform under these tough conditions.
There are a number of factors in the energy generation process that can help determine if an encoder is up to the challenge.
Elevation and azimuth position control. Heliostats demand high precision in order to maximize the amount of sunlight being received. Therefore, the efficiency of the overall system depends on their positioning accuracy in both elevation and azimuth. Here, precision optical encoders are best suited for the job.
Angular position control of Parabolic Trough Systems. Parabolic mirrors concentrate sunlight onto a heliostat’s receiver pipe—a process that requires rugged, yet flexible encoders. Depending on installation space, simple magnetic rotary encoders or inclinometers can be used in order to accurately measure the system’s angular position.
Rugged outdoor design. Encoders must integrate a number of characteristics that make them suitable for outdoor applications. These include robust housing, a wide temperature range, high resistance to shock and vibration, insensitivity to interference or magnetic disturbances and long service life.
Customizability. It is important for encoder manufacturers to work together with engineering teams to design custom control or motion solutions for solar. Depending on the application, the encoder may need to work with a wide variety of additional sensing systems, integrated drives or other types of feedback devices. To make integration easier, look for encoders that support SSI, BISS-C or common Fieldbus protocols.