News Column

Researchers Submit Patent Application, "Drive with Integrated Inclination Sensor", for Approval

July 23, 2014

By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Electronics Newsweekly -- From Washington, D.C., VerticalNews journalists report that a patent application by the inventors Linderman, Ryan (Oakland, CA); Barton, Nicholas (Richmond, CA), filed on December 28, 2012, was made available online on July 10, 2014.

The patent's assignee is Sunpower Corporation.

News editors obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "Some larger solar collector installations include an array of sun-tracking, solar power collector assemblies. Such assemblies can be used in conjunction with photovoltaic modules, concentrated photovoltaic modules, as well as concentrated thermal solar collector devices.

"Such sun-tracking collectors include hardware for automatically adjusting the position of the collector devices to track the sun as it moves across the sky. This tracking movement can be accomplished in a number of different ways. Some systems use a single axis tracking system in which the collector devices pivot about a single axis. Such single axis type tracking systems often include a drive shaft or 'torque tube' which defines a single pivot axis.

"Concentrated photovoltaic solar systems can provide significant cost savings over non-concentrated photovoltaic systems. This is because concentrated photovoltaic systems only use a fraction of the amount of photovoltaic material to collect about the same amount of sunlight. However, sun-tracking accuracy becomes more important with concentrated systems. For example, it is known that efficiency of a solar collector can drop if the mirrors of a concentrated system are misaligned by as little as Thus, high performance of such systems is more likely to be achieved if the components of the concentrated systems are manufactured to precise tolerances. Additionally, such concentrated photovoltaic systems are more affordable, if the hardware and/or labor required to construct such a system is reduced."

As a supplement to the background information on this patent application, VerticalNews correspondents also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent application: "An aspect of at least one of the inventions disclosed herein includes the realization that hardware and labor costs associated with drive systems can be reduced by improving motors with additional sensing capabilities. For example, in some known drive systems that are used for pivoting solar collectors for sun-tracking purposes, inclinometers are disposed on specific components of a sun-tracking solar collection system. In some known systems, the inclinometer is placed on or at a predetermined location relative to a solar collection device so that as the device is tilted through a sun-tracking motion, a signal indicative of the angle of the solar collection device is output by the sensor. This output of the sensor is used to selectively control a drive system to orient the solar collection device at desired angles and through desired movements.

"In such systems, the inclinometer is placed with a high degree of precision. Additionally, the inclinometer must be connected to either a 'smart motor' or another part of a control system in order to provide feedback signal of an actual detected angle of the collector. Such an inclinometer must be also weatherproof and include weatherproof electrical connections, which presents a significant cost of that hardware.

"Thus, an aspect of at least one of the inventions disclosed herein includes the realization that significant hardware and labor costs can be avoided by incorporating an inclinometer into a motor housing. As such, the additional cost associated with weatherproof electrical connections and housings for the inclinometer can be avoided. For example, known motors used for outdoor applications include weatherproof enclosures. Thus, by adding an inclinometer to the inside of such a weatherproof housing can entirely avoid the need for weatherproofing of the sensor and its electrical connections.

"This type of arrangement is particularly beneficial where a drive unit includes a motor with such an integrated inclination sensor in which the motor itself is mounted to a moveable part of the drive unit. Thus, the inclination sensor and the motor move together through a pivoting motion during use.

"Another aspect of at least one of the inventions disclosed herein includes the realization that an inclination sensor can be connected to a motor controller circuit board so as to further reduce the need of connector cables. For example, drive units that include a motor housing having a drive controller circuit board housed therein can be connected to a separate inclination sensor circuit board with any type of cable, such as a universal serial bus, a ribbon connector, or other type of connector. However, such an arrangement requires separate mounting portions for separately mounting the two circuit boards, plus additional circuit board conductors protruding off of the circuit board for connection to cable connectors, such as flexible ribbon type connectors or other cables.

"An aspect of at least one of the inventions disclosed herein includes the realization that further costs can be avoided by incorporating or mounting an inclination sensor directly to a motor controller circuit board. As such, the electrical contacts of the inclination sensor can be directly connected to the motor controller with conductive pathways printed directly on the circuit board, thereby avoiding the need for additional conductors to protrude through the circuit board and the associated connector mounts that would be necessary for cable connections.

"This summary is provided to introduce a selection of concepts in a simplified form that are further described below in the detailed description. This summary is not intended to identify key features or essential features of the claimed subject matter, nor is it intended to be used as an aid in determining the scope of the claimed subject matter.


"A more complete understanding of the subject matter may be derived by referring to the detailed description and claims when considered in conjunction with the following figures, wherein like reference numbers refer to similar elements throughout the figures.

"FIG. 1 is a schematic top plan view of a solar collector system;

"FIG. 2 is a schematic diagram of the system illustrated in FIG. 1 including optional electrical connections of the collector system with various electrical components;

"FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a non-concentrated photovoltaic embodiment of the solar collection system of FIG. 1, illustrating a plurality of piles mounted to the ground and supporting a plurality of torque tubes with a sun-tracking drive in accordance with an embodiment;

"FIG. 4 is a schematic side elevational view of a solar collector assembly for a concentrated photovoltaic embodiment of the solar collection system of FIG. 1, in which the present sun-tracking drive can also be used;

"FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the embodiment of FIG. 4 and including a sun-tracker drive;

"FIG. 6 is an enlarged perspective view of the sun-tracker drive of FIG. 5

"FIG. 7 is schematic diagram of a controller that can be used with the sun-tracker drive of FIGS. 5 and 6;

"FIG. 8 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a gearbox of the sun-tracking drive of FIGS. 5 and 6;

"FIG. 9 is an enlarged perspective view of the drive of FIGS. 5 and 6.

"FIG. 10 is a cross-sectional view of an embodiment of FIG. 9;

"FIG. 11 is a schematic diagram of circuit boards within a motor enclosure; and

"FIG. 12 is a schematic view of a motor controller circuit board with an integrated inclination sensor."

For additional information on this patent application, see: Linderman, Ryan; Barton, Nicholas. Drive with Integrated Inclination Sensor. Filed December 28, 2012 and posted July 10, 2014. Patent URL:

Keywords for this news article include: Electronics, Photovoltaic, Circuit Board, Sunpower Corporation.

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Source: Electronics Newsweekly

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