Control algorithm software optimizes solar energy harvesting

Beckhoff Automation TwinCAT Solar Position Algorithm library brings embedded PC-based control to solar power plants in a feature-laden function block that permits the exact calculation of sun angles anywhere in the world at any time, without the use of sensors.


To bring cost-effective and high-performance embedded PC-based control to solar power plants, Beckhoff Automation released the TwinCAT Solar Position Algorithm library. This feature-laden function block permits the exact calculation of sun angles anywhere in the world at any time, without the use of sensors.

The TwinCAT solution is designed for parabolic mirror and photovoltaic systems, as well as for other solar power plant designs that automatically track the sun's position for optimum utilization of the sun's rays. The control algorithm, which calculates the zenith and azimuth angles of the sun with an impressive precision of ±0.001 degrees, can also be used for other applications. Photovoltaic, CSV and CSP installations that track the sun position operate similarly. Another area of application for this solution is in building automation, where sensors alone are no longer sufficient to adequately deal with shading of large building facades. The Beckhoff software can also be used for exact calculation of shadow flicker from wind turbines, which is to be avoided in populated areas. The results allow individual turbines to be switched off if necessary.

The software library enables high-precision determination of sun angles and the times for sunrise, solar noon and sunset year-round. Depending on the required precision, the algorithm can take into account parameters, such as the time zone, the height above mean sea level, the slope of the ground or the orientation of the object, as well as the air temperature and pressure, which influence atmospheric refraction.

TwinCAT software is a complement to EtherCAT, Beckhoff's Industrial Ethernet-based technology. EtherCAT provides low microsecond level communication speeds, full connectivity to higher level systems and to IEEE 802.3 Ethernet-based infrastructure. EtherCAT also facilitates cost-effective Web-based remote maintenance capabilities. EtherCAT is compatible with copper and/or fiber optic cabling at distances up to 20 km (12.4 mi) for single-mode fiber optics or 2 km (1.2 mi) for multimode fiber optics. It also permits wiring via line, tree, star and/or mixed topologies.

Beckhoff Automation

- Also read:

Smart grid options, including solar, examined at Siemens Smart Grid Tour Event

Schneider Electric powers up photovoltaic solar array project at Palatine headquarters

Control Engineering System Integration channel

- Renee R. Bassett for Control Engineering,

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