What makes a solar tracker rotate?

by admin

A single-axis solar tracker is an ideal structure for utility-scale solar development as it produces more energy by keeping the photovoltaic modules pointed at the sun throughout the day. Company names such as Array Technologies, Nextracker and PV Hardware are synonymous with large-scale solar projects as they manufacture tracking systems that generate gigawatts of renewable energy around the globe.

Actuators manufactured by Kinematics enable the rotation of many solar trackers from various manufacturers.kinematics

These competing manufacturers have one common component that many trackers use. It’s the hardware that works first.

Kinematics CTO Adam Plesniak said: “Often you have different values. [propositions] Nevados has a very different type of system than OMCO, Nexttracker and Array, but they all literally revolve around our gearbox. “

kinematics We manufacture and assemble slew drives or actuators deployed in single-axis tracker systems. Many of them are for companies that hold the majority of the global solar tracker market share. There are over 2 million kinematic actuators on site, driving 53 GW of power on single-axis solar trackers.

Kinematics CEO John Payne said:

Driving force of solar power

For a company that began assembling actuators for the industrial mobile market nearly 30 years ago, Kinematics has grown with the solar industry. From its headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, Kinematics still serves the industrial mobile and satellite ground station industries, but now 90% of his business is focused on supplying actuators to solar tracker manufacturers. .

“We’ve benefited from working in all of these industries, and we’ve taken knowledge from things like the repeatability of accuracy that we have to offer satellites, and we’ve put that into practical solar, and we’ve been able to put that into practical solar. We can get a lot of manufacturing capacity for the things like Nextracker and PV hardware and push that learning back to other industries,” said Payne.

An actuator is a self-contained gearbox consisting of one or more gears that rotate a load on an axis. In solar applications, an actuator is attached to a torque tube (the rotating part of a single-axis solar tracker) to create the torsion that drives it.

Kinematics CEO John Payne stands in front of a row of assembled actuators.kinematics

A single kinematics actuator can rotate a row of single-axis trackers that host 90-100 solar panels. On average, about 30 kinematic actuators are required to rotate 1 MW of solar power.

No two solar trackers are the same, so Kinematics does not manufacture one model driver. For example, Nextracker makes solar trackers with independent panel rows that use individual drives. and Array Technologies trackers use drive lines that connect between rows of panels and rotate the groups in unison. Therefore, Kinematics works with tracker manufacturers to design actuators that match the system’s torque requirements and rotational layout.

“They really appreciate that they are not just buying an off-the-shelf product,” said Jennifer Cangelosi, vice president of global sales and business development at Kinematics.

Kinematics has also helped a company with fixed tilt racks move to tracking systems.

“Multiple fixed-tilt companies came to us and said, ‘Our customers want trackers. Can you help us?’ “We have made the path very easy for them. They give us the steel and the panels, they give us the foundation and the heart of the tracker’s motion control system. It’s a really frictionless way to come from the side and easily transform into a tracking company.”

Kinematics designs and manufactures self-locking actuators. This means that the solar tracker can be angled and fixed in place to face the sun, but without the risk of external forces such as wind exerting an opposing torque to cause it to shift and rotate.

Actuators are just one component of the company’s portfolio of motor control hardware for solar trackers. Kinematics also manufactures encoders and sensors that monitor systems and generate data that operators and manufacturers can use to optimize tracker performance.

“There is this move towards what we call ‘digital solar,’” says Payne. “In other words, by making greater use of connectivity, sensors, data management and intelligence, and really developing actionable intelligence, we can ultimately improve the full lifecycle cost of installing a solar power plant. increase.”

To further reduce operating and maintenance costs, Kinematics has a goal of manufacturing “maintenance free” actuators. In previous models, the kinematic drives required regular re-greasing. The latest update to the company’s actuators is a sealed gearbox whose lubricant is self-contained and does not need to be refilled, and the drive is also protected from external substances such as dust.Kinematics calls this the ST series

“[Solar trackers] The electronics of the controller, the battery, is an element that needs to be inspected and often needs to be replaced every ten years, so it should be inspected at least once every ten years,” said Plesniak. I’m here. “So having a maintenance-free product means, in a way, you get to touch it basically every decade. and make sure you have some things to check, but ultimately nothing to keep.”

Manufacturing outlook

Headquartered in Phoenix, Kinematics manufactures components at its factory in Jiangsu, China, and ships them to another factory in Nogales, Mexico for final assembly.

The company recently received approval to export actuators from its plant in Mexico to the United States. By shipping the finished product from Mexico, the company is able to avoid the tariffs that apply when importing directly from China.

An assembly line crew assembles an actuator at the Kinematics factory in Nogales, Mexico.kinematics

“Because it’s our proprietary technology that enables that tariff shift, we can effectively deliver tariff-free products from our facility in Mexico to the United States. This is a huge advantage for our customers.” Payne said.

Kinematics plans to use incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act to expand its manufacturing lines and possibly open a factory in the United States.

“Like many other companies, we are waiting for more clarity from the IRA,” said Payne. “But we have developed a blueprint for what we call the ‘factory of the future. If we can get this to work, we’ll be able to make drives in a fraction of the time we do today. facilities in Jiangsu.

These improvements can be achieved through factory automation and robotics. Kinematics will eventually make these updates to existing facilities as well.

Until then, Kinematics will continue to produce actuators in China and Mexico, keeping much of the solar tracker market moving, with a target of 2 million more units deployed.

“We have these relationships with our customers that are long lasting. We work quietly behind the scenes,” says Payne. “Frankly, with some of the amazing things we do, we need to be a little more outspoken because we’re the world leaders in this space. We’re just not wired that way.”

Related Articles

Leave a Comment