The Solar Energy Tracker
Thesis DisciplineElectrical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Engineering
Reference is increasingly being made towards the need for the world to find new and renewable forms of energy, especially for electric power generation, but also for space heating and the heating of water. Solar energy is one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy available and is so far one of the most underutilised resources. One contribution makes reference to the way forward as being ‘using concentrating solar power which uses parabolic mirrors to focus the solar heat (energy) and generate steam to drive electric generators’ as is currently happening in the utility power marketplace in the USA. This thesis deals with the issues surrounding the original development of a two axis solar energy tracking system (SET) in 1997. The subsequent redesign, development and upgrade, undertaken from 2002 to 2006, with its performance and efficiency being measured in 2006 and 2007 using a specially configured measurement and recording system. A Solar Energy Tracker (SET) is designed to track the sun moving in two axes, reflecting the solar radiation received on its mirrors to a target mounted at the end of a boom, at the focal point of the mirrors. In late 2005 and early 2006, a solar thermal hot water manufacturer and installer heard about the developments and requested some form of involvement, especially if Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) provided research input and assisted in the further development and testing of solar thermal hot water systems. This sponsor offered two projects in 2006 and again in 2007. Other solar thermal hot water suppliers also requested involvement in the research and development being performed at CPIT, which led in August 2006, December 2006, June 2007 and December 2007, to a number of other solar thermal hot water and air wall systems being installed. Progressively, the roof of C block at CPIT has become full of solar thermal hot water systems and solar air wall systems, both of the conventional type and those with newer technologies at the core of their development. This thesis outlines the stages in the redesign and development of the SET, and the various stages in its testing, development and refinement up to its present form. The thesis chapters are written based around the mechanical and electrical design, the auto-tracking and daylight controls, the PLC (programmable logic controller) controller, the mirror and substrate testing, the SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) system, the testing and comparison with other domestic solar thermal hot water systems and finally the testing of the SET itself. It also details the future developments and outlines possible uses for the SET in its redefined form. With clean and polished mirrors the SET has proven itself capable of achieving a temperature rise across the target of 15 °C at a flow rate of 4 l/m. On some occasions this temperature rise can be in excess of 20 °C, but testing thus far, has shown this cannot be sustained for any worthwhile period of time (15-30 minutes). This translates to an efficiency of 5-10 % when related to an energy produced per twenty four hour time period. However, if the efficiency is calculated for the actual period of generation, ‘generation efficiency,’ then this figure rises to 24 %. An overview is given of associated solar thermal hot water and solar air wall system research and development (that is ongoing at CPIT) as well as the performance and efficiency graphs for the solar thermal hot water systems on test. No manufacturer’s, industry or brand trade names are mentioned, as this research is still confidential and commercially sensitive. However, the technology involved and characterised by each solar thermal system is recorded in a generic sense. The SET was originally developed with the purpose of heating hot water and today this is still the intent. The possible applications for this hot water are many and varied from electricity generation, space heating and further into developing or new industrial processes. The performances of the other domestic solar thermal hot water systems currently under test, are compared with the figures from the SET, with the maximum efficiency, presently available, being from an evacuated tube heat pipe system at up to 65 %, whereas traditional finned flat plate technologies have efficiencies after twelve months of up to 48 %.