Industrial applications find uses for solar energy

Oct. 5, 2010
Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor, says tools and equipment that harvest sunlight are growing in number and scope.

Sunlight, a renewable power source, is a clean, economical and often safer alternative to fossil fuels and batteries. The free and inexhaustible fuel source reduces electricity costs, eliminates toxic greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the number of batteries tossed into landfills. Some solar energy investments qualify for financial incentives.

Welding helmets

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Automatic-darkening welding helmets have a lens shade that darkens within a millisecond of arc strike, and lightens when it ceases. Standard battery-operated versions require the batteries be monitored and changed regularly. The units that feature solar power with battery backup, such as the Viking 700G and 750S models offered by Lincoln Electric, harvest sunlight or indoor lighting to fuel a rechargeable lithium battery.

The Viking helmets provide continuous light-sensitivity control and UV/IR protection, saving the welder from having to remember to switch a power control on or off or to watch and replace the batteries. Eliminating the potential for operator error and corrosion reduces the risk of arc flash. The batteries are designed to deliver thousands of hours of arc (darkened) time, according to Jamy Bulan, product manager for Lincoln Electric.

Remote systems


Many companies rely on automation and industrial control systems to monitor and manage equipment installed at distant, off-grid locations. An autonomous, reliable power source that can withstand harsh environments is required to ensure 24/7 system uptime. Kyocera Solar’s Series 88+ remote solar power supply systems are designed to support the remote data acquisition and telemetry requirements of the oil and gas industry. Whether land-based or offshore, the self-contained photovoltaic (PV) power systems use integrated solar panels to generate DC electricity for applications such as flow monitoring, data recording, valve actuation and tank gauging.

Corrosion prevention systems are commonly needed in locations lacking access to commercial power. Kyocera’s cathodic protection systems use solar-generated electricity to prevent corrosion in unattended metallic equipment. Contained in NEMA 3R enclosures, the systems operate directly from the PV storage batteries and provide adjustable voltage and current outputs, automatic low-voltage shutdown and surge suppression capabilities. The Omega II solar-powered cathodic protection controller from JA Electronics uses Kyocera’s solar arrays and provides separate day and night output control and low-ripple protection waveform.

Water circulators

Industrial water applications such as wastewater reservoirs, storage tanks, storm water ponds and reuse ponds depend on circulation systems or chemicals to maintain proper water quality levels. SolarBee offers a long-distance circulation (LDC) system that runs on solar power around the clock, thanks to on-board battery storage capacity of as much as 24 hours. The floating, chemical-free circulator can move as much as 10,000 gal of water/min from depths of more than 100 ft, and a single unit can reportedly aerate a 35-acre lake or treat a 25-million-gallon drinking water reservoir or tank.

A paper packaging plant that chose an LDC for its wastewater treatment system received a 10% solar tax credit and accelerated depreciation for the SolarBee purchase.

The solar-powered circulator, which prevents and controls algae blooms, odor, hydrogen sulfide buildup, greenhouse gas emissions and sludge, reduces short circuiting and maintenance costs while providing environmental benefits.

Self-powered sensors

These sensors eliminate the need for wires and battery replacements. The Sensolux system, powered by EnOcean Alliance technology, is a demand-based solar presence detector for lighting control that captures energy from its surroundings using indoor solar cells. Sensolux detects the presence of persons, measures the momentary light level and transmits the data wirelessly to a switching actuator. Lights are switched off when the last person leaves the room or daylight level reaches a specified threshold, although manual overrides are available. The sensor can work for days in darkness if the energy accumulator is fully charged.

A new millimeter-scale solar-powered sensor system developed at the University of Michigan operates nearly perpetually by harvesting energy from its surroundings. The low-power sensor spends most of its time in sleep mode and wakes periodically to take measurements. Its total average power consumption is less than 1 nW, and the battery can last many years. Building and bridge monitoring applications are among the possibilities for this sensor.

E-mail Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy, managing director of Additive Communications, at [email protected].

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