Western Engineering professor develops sun-tracker for solar collectors

As solar farms surface across the countryside at an exponential rate, the push for harvesting greener energy has driven a researcher from The University of Western Ontario to figure out a way to maximize daylight hours.

Due to the sun’s rotation throughout the day, current solar cells, housed in fixed solar panels, are not in a position to harness the greatest amount of sunlight. As a solution, Kamran Siddiqui, a Western Engineering professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, along with his graduate student Hassan Hassan, has developed a smart solar tracker and a load compensator for solar collectors. These two novel technologies can be used in a variety of solar energy applications, such as photovoltaic (PV) panels, parabolic dishes, parabolic troughs and solar water heaters.

“We have to make sure the collector position is optimized in a way that it can collect the maximum amount of solar energy,” Siddiqui says. “You want to have high efficiency of the system.”

To collect the most amount of sunlight, the solar energy systems must be able to track the sun’s movement throughout the day. When Siddiqui began researching what was already available on the market, he found most had a microprocessor, which uses mathematical equations utilizing longitude and latitude coordinates of the site to calculate the sun’s path at any given time of the day.

Siddiqui developed a simple, smart, cost-effective system that doesn’t rely on a computer and pre-defined coordinates of longitude and latitude to improve the accuracy of solar tracking systems.

A prototype of the system, which tracks the sun east-to-west (along two axes; azimuth and altitude), is located on the roof of Western’s Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Pavilion.

“It basically tracks the sun with sensors and we developed our own control board with a logic circuit, which precisely locates the sun. As soon as it finds the sun, it stays there,” he says. “When the sun position changes in reference to the ground, it moves, and as soon as it finds the sun, it stops there. It is continuously tracking the sun.”

The novel load compensator is a mechanical system that carries 60-75% of the total collector load and hence small size motors can be used to move the collector.

Siddiqui is currently working with WORLDiscoveries to bring these new technologies to the marketplace.