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issue: June 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

Motor Technology
Driving Solar Technologies

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To meet demands for environmentally friendly products, one supplier is creating motors for solar-powered applications.

Built-in encoders make Bodine’s Incodermotors robust enough for solar-powered generators.

Rising energy costs and public concerns over environmental degradation are encouraging OEMs and suppliers to investigate new ways of powering equipment. This includes designing lower-voltage products that can either run independently of the electrical grid or utilize solar power as an energy source. Recognizing that this may be more than a trend, Bodine Electric Co. of Chicago, IL, U.S. (www.bodine-electric.com) is creating custom, low-voltage windings for several low-volume applications, ranging from solar-powered water circulators to power-generating facilities.

One of the company’s current projects involves the use of low-voltage motors in a solar power generation test site in California, U.S. Rather than using photovoltaic cells, the generator design focuses sunlight to create heat that is used to generate electricity. Two of Bodine’s permanent-magnet dc 24-V Incodermotors are used on each unit to position the azimuth and elevation axes of the collection mirrors.

Terry Auchstetter, product manager of custom products at Bodine, says the motor’s built-in 4.5- to 12-V magnetic encoder makes it a good fit for the application. “Some kind of feedback device is necessary in order to track the position of the solar panels,” he explains. “Because of the harsh outdoor environment, putting the sensitive electronic device inside the robust motor enclosure made a lot of sense to our customer.”

This feature, he adds, is unique to Bodine. “I’m not aware of any other dc motor on the market that has an encoder built into it,” he says. “Other motors might have encoders with protective covers over them, but ours is actually a part of the motor.”

While the built-in encoder is completely shielded from the elements, there were still several other design aspects that needed to be considered in order to make the motor as robust as possible. “We needed to keep rain out of the motor, but at the same time, prevent condensation inside the motor,” Auchstetter explains. “We achieved this with a careful combination of sealing and ventilation. We’re still considering whether the motors should be painted white so as not to absorb too much heat from the sunlight.”

One proprietary feature that was designed specifically for this project is an alert that informs the user when the motor brushes need to be replaced. Auchstetter says this is an important feature because serious damage can occur to the power generator if the motor stops moving without warning and emergency measures aren’t taken immediately to shut down the system.

The fact that the motors are dc also makes them suited for power failure situations. “The dc motors can be powered by backup batteries in that situation, whereas ac motors aren’t as easy to power from batteries in an emergency,” Auchstetter explains. “The brush-type dc motors were chosen over brushless dc because of the lower cost, which was important because it is anticipated that thousands of these motors will be purchased. One might expect that brushless dc motors would have been selected because of the long life requirement, but the intermittent operation of the motors, along with the proprietary brush replacement warning device, made the brush-type motor a viable solution.”

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
Bodine Electric Company

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