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Invention of the month: Drive lets solar panels track the sun

Invention of the month: Drive lets solar panels track the sun

Solar panels that track the sun in azimuth are up to 20% more efficient than fixed panels. So engineers at SKF (www.skf.com) designed a drive specifically to move panels so they track the sun. Dubbed the Solar Hub, the device combines a self-locking gearbox, bearings, and seals in a package that should survive 20 years in severe outdoor conditions, For example it carries an IP65 rating and operates in temperatures from -4° to 140°F.

Unlike other panel drives, the Solar Hub was designed to reduce maintnenace. For example, technicians can install the 225-lb device and panels relatively quickly, which minimizes maintenance. This quick setup can be critical in installations with hundreds or thousands of panels. The drive is also lubed for life and loses practically no grease over 20 years, unlike other drives. And in a study, the unit required virtually no maintenance over a 20-year span. The same study showed that a standard drive consumes $3,000 in maintenance over the same period.

It has a 1:90 gear ratio and handles axial loads up to 14,725 lb and radial loads to 8,925 lbs. Dynamic torque rating is 7,744 ft-lb and static torque is 15,488 ft-lb.

An ac or dc motor is optional, as is an encoder for sending positioning feedback to operators or other subsystems.
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