The challenges of sun-tracking systems

In fact, the tracking accuracy requirement is very much reliant on the design and application of the solar collector. In this case, the longer the distance between the solar concentrator and the receiver the higher the tracking accuracy required will be because the solar image becomes more sensitive to the movement of the solar concentrator. As a result, a heliostat or off-axis sun tracker normally requires much higher tracking accuracy compared to that of on-axis sun tracker for the reason that the distance between the heliostat and the target is normally much longer, especially for a central receiver system configuration. In this context, a tracking accuracy in the range of a few miliradians (mrad) is in fact sufficient for an on – axis sun tracker to maintain its good performance when highly concentrated sunlight is involved (Chong et al, 2010). Despite having many existing on-axis sun-tracking methods, the designs available to achieve a good tracking accuracy of a few mrad are complicated and expensive. It is worthwhile to note that conventional on-axis sun-tracking systems normally adopt two common configurations, which are azimuth-elevation and tilt-roll (polar tracking), limited by the available basic mathematical formulas of sun-tracking system. For azimuth-elevation tracking system, the sun-tracking axes must be strictly aligned with both zenith and real north. For a tilt-roll tracking system, the sun-tracking axes must be exactly aligned with both latitude angle and real north. The major cause of sun-tracking errors is how well the aforementioned alignment can be done and any installation or fabrication defect will result in low tracking accuracy. According to our previous study for the azimuth – elevation tracking system, a misalignment of azimuth shaft relative to zenith axis of 0.4° can cause tracking error ranging from 6.45 to 6.52 mrad (Chong & Wong, 2009). In practice, most solar power plants all over the world use a large solar collector area to save on manufacturing cost and this has indirectly made the alignment work of the sun-tracking axes much more difficult. In this case, the alignment of the tracking axes involves an extensive amount of heavy-duty mechanical and civil works due to the requirement for thick shafts to support the movement of a large solar collector, which normally has a total collection area in the range of several tens of square meters to nearly a hundred square meters. Under such tough conditions, a very precise alignment is really a great challenge to the manufacturer because a slight misalignment will result in significant sun-tracking errors. To overcome this problem, an unprecedented on-axis general sun-tracking formula has been proposed to allow the sun tracker to track the sun in any two arbitrarily orientated tracking axes (Chong & Wong, 2009). In this chapter, we would like to introduce a novel sun-tracking system by integrating the general formula into the sun-tracking algorithm so that we can track the sun accurately and cost effectively, even if there is some misalignment from the ideal azimuth-elevation or tilt-roll configuration. In the new tracking system, any misalignment or defect can be rectified without the need for any drastic or labor-intensive modifications to either the hardware or the software components of the tracking system. In other words, even though the alignments of the azimuth-elevation axes with respect to the zenith-axis and real north are not properly done during the installation, the new sun­tracking algorithm can still accommodate the misalignment by changing the values of parameters in the tracking program. The advantage of the new tracking algorithm is that it can simplify the fabrication and installation work of solar collectors with higher tolerance in terms of the tracking axes alignment. This strategy has allowed great savings in terms of cost, time and effort by omitting complicated solutions proposed by other researchers such as adding a closed-loop feedback controller or a flexible and complex mechanical structure to level out the sun-tracking error (Chen et al., 2001; Luque-Heredia et al., 2007).

Updated: July 1, 2015 — 12:24 pm