Sustainable Expertise: Tracking the Sun to Power the Earth

As countries worldwide migrate toward greater adoption of renewables to achieve their net-zero targets, solar has become a preferred choice. “Sunbelt” regions from Southern California to the Middle East are constructing solar power farms that vary in their technologies yet similarly rely on solar trackers to capture energy from the sun. Cone Drive by Timken has emerged as a leader in precision motion control solutions for these trackers, maximizing solar exposure as they point directly toward the sun all day, every day, for years.

“Cone Drive’s unique solutions have become mission-critical for the world’s largest solar stations, including two new sites in the Middle East,” says Kurt Gamelin, Cone Drive president. “Customers have grown to trust that our technical expertise and design influence can positively impact their equipment’s efficiency and reliability.”

Innovation That Moves Sustainability Forward

More efficiency today means greater resilience tomorrow – for businesses, communities and the planet. It’s why Timken focuses on innovation in industries like renewable energy, and Cone Drive’s contribution to the rapidly developing global solar industry is an excellent example.

“We’re taking on huge solar thermal power system projects with our double-enveloping technology, including what soon will be the world’s tallest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) tower,” said Gamelin. “When it’s complete, the Noor Energy 1 CSP tower in Dubai is expected to generate 100 megawatts of power.”

Cone Drive is the exclusive worm gear drives supplier for the Noor Energy 1 tower’s 70,000 heliostats. The double enveloping worm gear design delivers high dynamic and static torque loads in a small package – providing precision and accuracy with absolute zero backlash. Translation: the units are efficient, high-performing and require little maintenance over their 20+-year lifespans.

Noor Energy 1 is expected to go online in 2021 and is the fourth phase of a multi-technology solar park that, upon completion, will have a total capacity of 950 MW.

In Israel, Cone Drive’s technology already drives more than 50,000 computer-controlled heliostats at the Ashalim Solar Thermal Station in the Negev desert. Ashalim generates enough electricity to supply 120,000 homes in the region with clean energy.

Both solar stations – as well as the Cone-Drive-equipped Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in Southern California – were designed and built by BrightSource Energy, which specializes in CSP systems that minimize environmental impact and help customers meet their clean energy goals.

The Technology: Enabling Both Types of Solar Power Farms

“BrightSource is a world leader in CSP technology, and Ivanpah was our initial large solar project with them,” said Jacob Randall, global director of strategic markets – Cone Drive. “Ivanpah’s system leverages our industry leading double enveloping worm gear technology for the custom designed drives, and we are the only company in the world that offers this technology for solar partners. We proved our product and expertise on that project and since then have become their supplier of choice on major projects.”

Jacob notes that while Cone Drive provides gearing solutions for massive CSP projects globally, various customers and regions prefer different technologies based on their climate and economic factors.

“CSP farms are more common near the equator where there is a high concentration of sunlight,” Randall continued. “Photovoltaic (PV) solar power farms cover a much broader geographical footprint as they are less complex designs, easier to install, and more economical. For our engineering and manufacturing teams, it all comes down to individual customers, and in some cases, the customer’s individual projects. We use our collective knowledge in solar applications to customize solutions to meet the specific needs of the customer.”

Cone Drive specializes in motion control systems for both types of large-scale solar power plants, including:

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Driven by heat Photovoltaic Solar Power (PV) Driven by light
How it Works Sunlight is reflected by a configuration of mirrors to a “concentrator” such as a solar tower (pictured above) to create high temperature steam. The steam is then used to drive conventional generator systems that create an alternating current that can safely be distributed on a power network. How it Works Light from the sun is absorbed by solar cells to create a direct electric current, which is then converted to an alternating current that can then be safely distributed on a power network.
Chief Advantage Ability to store power for future use Chief Advantage Economical
Cone Drive Solution CSP heliostats use Cone Drive double enveloping gear drives on one axis and linear actuators on the other to track the sun. In a double enveloping design, the worm “hugs” the gear creating greater surface contact and allows the worm gear reducer to run cooler, quieter and more efficiently. Cone Drive is the original developer and only provider of this specific technology in the world.

Cone Drive Solution PV solar cells use gear systems equipped with Cone Drive slewing drives to track the sun throughout the day. Slewing drives provide long life and reliability and are specifically engineered to deliver large gear ratios within a single stage of gearing. The totally enclosed units save space and provide long service life with low maintenance costs.

“On the CSP side, there are subsections of the market based on mirror size, and we are the world leader in drives for the 20-30 sq. meter mirror size, which is the largest and most significant technology in that segment,” Randall said. “In PV, Cone Drive became the world leader in drive solutions last year. Our leadership in the early stages of solar development has established us as a technical leader in original equipment, and customers know we have the capabilities to support them in the future with service and aftermarket needs as their solar stations mature.”

In addition to advancing solar energy through engineering expertise, Timken also is committed to being a growing consumer of the alternative energy source. The company increased its use of solar energy by more than six times from 2018 to 2019 and continues looking for opportunities to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels across its global operations.