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SOLAR POWERED WATER PUMPS: PROBLEMS, PITFALLS AND POTENTIAL

T. D. Short, M. A. Mueller
University of Durham, United Kingdom

since their fust introduction in the late 1970s the


ABSTRACT technology has by no means reached its full potential.
Moreover, present levels of penetration contrast
strongly with the 1978 aim to install IO million units
For many years, solar (photovoltaic) powered water by the year 2000 [I]. By 1998 it was estimated that a
pumping has been portrayed as being able to total of only 60,000 units had been sold since 1978 [2].
revolutionise water provision in rural and developing Whilst this goes some way to addressing the lack of
communities. Mass produced pumps and cheaper PV safe water currently faced by up to 1.2 billion people
panels have been promised, with the possibility of world-wide [3], a recent study [4] suggests that nearly
bringing safe water to those people who currently lack half the pumps in some areas are no longer functioning,
this basic human right. Although inroads have been only ten years after installation. So what is the
made to reaching such an ideal situation, the current problem? Where are these system going wrong and
reality is somewhat different. This paper will consider failing those who depend on them?
the challenges faced by electronic and electrical
components in a solar powered water pumping system.
It will: PRESENT SYSTEMS : COMPONENTS &
1. review how these problem have been PROBLEMS
addressed historically;
2 . investigate the ways in which the solutions
have failed Solar water pumping systems are nominally very
3. explore novel ways of utilising modem simple. Figure 1 is a schematic of such a system,
electrical systems in order to allow full composed of a solar array, a motor, a pump and a
exploitation of this potentially life- reservoir. The use of the reservoir removes the need for
transforming technology. a battery, whilst the controller’s presence is dependent
on the type of motor-pump combination chosen and
whether or not “Maximum Power Point Tracking” is
INTRODUCTION
required. Each of the electrical components in this
system has its own characteristics, and all are further
Very little has changed in recent years in the provision dependent - through the motor - on the type of pump
of pumping energy through photovoltaics (PV). Whilst employed.
the use of PV water pumps (PWs) has grown steadily

c
c
L

Figure 1 PV pump system schematic Figure 2 PV and pump characteristics


Power Electronics.Machines and Drives, 16-1 8 April 2002,
Conference PublicationNo.487.Q IEE 2002
28 1

The photovoltaic array water collection, with the resultant health and social
implications. The further potential for “drastic
consequences ... for cattle and crops’’ [ 9 ] only
enhances the view that down time should be kept to a
The PV panel has a lolown DC current-voltage (I-V)
minimum and that reliability IS key. It seems
characteristic such as that shown in Figure 2 , varying
remarkable, therefore, that having mentioned the
with the radiation incident on the panel and with a
failure of 17 out of 90 inverters in field testing, Hahn is
Maximum Power Point (MPP) curve as shown by the
able to conclude that “PVP standard systems [i.e. using
grey line. If there is a direct connection between the
AC motors driving centrifugal pumps] have
array and the motor then the operating point of the
demonstrated their technical maturity and reliability”.
panel is dependent on the characteristics of the motor
Kaunmuang [4] adds to this, noting that in a survey of
and is unlikely to match the MPP. This can also be
489 PVPs, “220 units (45%) have failed. Most failures
seen in Figure 2 where the dashed lines show the I-V
are due to blockage of pumps and pipes and inverter
demand from typical DC permanent magnet motors
failures”. The nature of places likely to use PVPs does
driving centrifugal and reciprocating pumps.
not ease the situation, with conditions likely to be
extremely difficult. Hammad [ 101 quotes “temperature
as hot as 40°C and dust blown from a constant desert
The motor wind”, both of which are potential contributors to
controller failure.
There are consequently two lessons to be leamt
Whilst the output from the PV array is DC, the motor
regarding electronics and controllers:
may not be, depending on the system as purchased.
If any kind of controller is to be used, be it for a DC
Several different possible motor types exist, each with
their own problem. An immediate addition to expense brushless motor, an inverter for AC provision or a
is that local electricians in developing countries are not specialised MPP Tracker (MPPT), it must be
always trained to install DC systems, requiring either inherently extremely reliable, or easily
the cost of specialist help [5], or of additional training. reparable/replaceable at local level. This places
Should the motor be supplied with DC electricity, it severe limitations on such a controller;
could be brushed (with inherent losses at the brushes Given these limitations, it must be questioned
and regular maintenance requirements as brushes wear whether or not a controller should be used at all.
away); brushless (requiring a complex controller [6]); Indeed, whilst electronic systems should have
separately excited (possibility of good MPP matching, increased in dependability since Roger concluded
but requiring a complex controller [7]); or switched “direct coupling petween motor and amy] is the
reluctance (also requiring a control circuit [SI) to name most reliable pumping technique” [9], the evidence
but a few variations. points otherwise.

An alternative is to use AC motors. Whilst the motor


itself may be cheap, reliable and, in contrast to the DC Discussion
motor, simple, it requires an inverter which is
potentially complex and hence expensive. In addition,
according to Metwally [8] “[als the inverter becomes Previously designed systems appear to have matched
complex the reliability in service decreases”. This off-the-shelf components, in order to standardise the
statement encompasses a considerable number of systems and reduce costs. However, it may not be the
problems encountered by PVPs in use in the field optimum solution for the application and the
which will now be considered. environment in which the system is being used. Drive
systems for PV powered pumps operating in a rural
community in the developing world have to be cheap,
reliable and maintainable by an untrained user.
The inverter andlor controller Reductions in cost and gains in reliability can be
gained by minimising the complexity of power
electronics and reducing tbe number of electro-
Whilst it is clear that the optimum PVF‘ design would mechanical stages in the drive system. Ideally the
be a PV array directly connected to a DC motor, the system should also exhibit high performance.
problem of matching the MPP curve of an array still
remains. The added expense and complexity of some Based on these constraints the drive system should be
kind of controller is somewhat irrelevant in more dc powered, brushless and placed in the borehole
developed countries as spares and repairs are easy to directly coupled to a reciprocating piston as suggested
access. This is not the case -in developing countries, by Whitfield et a1 [I I]. Moving beyond the assumption
however. If anything goes wrong with the pump of a rotational motor, however, the drive system could
system, it may be a considerable time before anyone is he based on the brushless permanent magnet or
available to inspect the pump. During this time, and variable reluctance principle, whilst the thrust force
any further time required to source replacement parts, could be generated using either tangential forces from a
water users must resort to more traditional methods of conventional linear motor topology or normal forces
from an electromagnet topology.
282

bead and the second term is the force due to the


Perris and Salameh [I21 proposed replacing a rotary submerged head. Apt. is the cross sectional area of the
motor and gearbox with a linear dc motor drive system pipe at the outlet valve and A,,i3,0nis the cross sectional
positioned at ground level and coupled to the pump via area of the piston.
a long connecting rod. Whilst this has moved towards
the desired system, the use of a connecting rod is not In order to investigate a suitable linear actuator a
desirable in deep bore holes, say up to 100m. It is also typical specification of the pumping requirements is
unclear whether the proposed motor is brusbless. required. Boreholes are typically 100 or 150 mm in
diameter, with typical heads of 100 m. The swept
volume at the piston typically vanes from 0.1 to 0.5
RECIPROCATING INDUCED FLOW PUMP. Us, The frequency of operation can typically vary from
10 to 20 Hz.

System Description
Linear Actuator.

Figure 3 shows the components in a reciprocating


pump. Motion of the piston is achieved using a linear The function of the linear actuator is to produce a force
actuator. During pumping the piston moves upwards, which has to overcome the pressure of the submerged
the outlet valve opens and the inlet valve closes. bead and the pressure of the outlet head behind the
During the down stroke the outlet valve closes, and at outlet valve. The thrust force could be generated using
the same time the pressure in the chamber equalises to either tangential forces from a conventional linear
the pressure represented by the submerged head. The motor topology or normal forces from an
inlet valve then opens. Beneath the water chamber lies electromagnet topology. In the latter case there would
a sealed chamber containing the control system if be no physical contact between the actuator and the
required piston.

A starting point for any design study is to consider the


stress capability of the options available. For
conventional linear motor topologies, a variable

1
reluctance machine has a shear stress in the region of
40 kN/mz, whereas machines based on the variable
reluctance permanent magnet (VRPM) principle
exhibit shear stresses in excess of 100 khVm'[13,14]. If
an airgap of 1T could be achieved in the electromagnet

I
topology, a normal stress of 400 kN/mz would be
achieved. Clearly the latter option offers the best
choice in terms of desired tlnust and the ability to fit
inside the physical envelope available in the pumping
I
chamber.

Variable reluctance electromagnet actuator

Figure 4 shows the proposed electromagnet actuator in


more detail. The actuator is supplying the force to
displace the water and hence provide pumping power.
The thrust force is provided by the force of attraction
between the iron bar and the C-core and is calculated
from Maxwell Stress :

Figure 3 : Reciprocating Induced Flow Pump


2
The worst case static force acting on the piston is given
by equation 1. In order to open the outlet valve the where B is the airgap flux density and po is the
thrust force from the actuator must be at least equal to permeability of air.
this force.

F = pgh,Apipe+ pghzApi,,, 1

The first term represents the force due to the outlet


283

performance the coil cnnent should rise to the source


current as early as possible in the pumping period. By
considering the inductance at the maximum airgap
position a voltage can be chosen to ensure that the
desired current is achieved in an approporiate time.

This brief overview highlights that the design of the


system is highly dependant on the individual
components in the system, which is illustrated further
in a basic design study.

m m*d,am/er
DESIGN STUDY

F - :e 4 Variable reluctance electromagnet ach The actuator cannot fill the whole spa% of the
borehole, a path is required for the water around the
The airgap flux density is calculated from a reluctance perimeter of the actuator. Proposed dimensions for a
network of the device, shown in figure 5 . It is assumed 100 nnn borehole are given in Table 1. These
in this simple network that all the flux flows in the dimensions have been used throughout the design
limbs of the C-core and only crosses the airgaps under study.
the poles; no account of fringing is considered.
Saturation is considered very simply by choosing the
iron permeability to limit the flux density in the iron to
2.5T.

Table 1 : Typical dimensions (in mm)


nor,

r0,
Because of the physical limitations it is anticipated that
S.pokL the iron will he saturated, and the slot dimensions are
chosen to ensure a reasonable temperature rise.

The airgap is dependent on the displacement of the


s.aiqa pump piston. For example at 10 Hz operation the
piston stroke is 6.4mm in a l O O m m borehole and 2.4
nnn in a 150 mm borehole for a swept volume of 0.5
Us in each case. With the actuator providing the
S. ,mn *r
pumping action the iron bar moves through a
displacement equal to the stroke.
Figure 5 : Reluctance network of the electromagnet
actuator Figure 6 shows how the force produced by the actuator
varies from an airgap of 8mm to Imm for each
borehole. In each case the number of rums is set to
The actuator is providing the pumping action so that 500 and the maximum coil current is equal to 13A.
the iron bar has to move through a displacement equal Saturation of the magnetic circuit limits the force
to the pump stroke. The airgap operating range is
available.
therefore equal to the stroke, which affects the
resulting force produced.

Electrically the actuator can be modelled as a resistor


and inductance in series with the solar m a y providing
the voltage supply. The solar array consists of a
number of solar panels connected in series to provide
the necessary voltage and a-number of these strings
connected in parallel to provide the required current.
At a certain solar irradiation a constant current is
generated, but the current rise is limited by the coil
inductance. Since the airgap changes the coil
inductance also changes. In order to achieve optimum
284

120w 80

-
a
U0
8000
U l 60w
4000
0 ~ O ~ 1
lo
60

40
30
20
I

. .
.

ml
..... 0.3 11s
- .- .0.3511s

2000 .. - _.--..____ 10
0
0 2 4 6 8 10 0 50 100
airgap (mm) diameter (mm)
I. . ... 100 mm -1sOmm I
Figure 6 : Force vs airgap Figure 8 : Head vs pipe diameter at different swept
volumes at f=20Hz
At the maximum airgap the force produced has to
overcome the pressure of the submerged depth and the The current required to achieve the starting force is
pressure of the outlet head behind the outlet valve. For limited by the inductance of the coil when the airgap is
the 1 0 0 " borehole a force of 77.1 N is required per at a maximum. A simple analysis of the magnetic
metre of submerged depth. The force hehind the outlet circuit shows that at an airgap of 8" the coil
valve depends upon the diameter of the pipe at that inductance is equal to 40mH for a 100 mm borehole.
depth. Knowing the stroke and the force at this airgap However, as the piston moves the airgap decreases and
a working head can be calculated for different pipe so the inductance increases. In addition the voltage
diameters. will decrease as the current increases because of the
solar panel I-V characteristic (figure 2). A full
Figures 7 & 8 show the relationship hetween head and dynamic model is required to investigate the current
pipe diameter for different swept volumes at waveform during the pumping action, which is beyond
frequencies of 10 Hz and 20 Hz respectively. the scope of this paper.

As the swept volume increases the stroke increases for As part of the design study it is sufficient to determine
a fixed frequency. The thrust force from the actuator the minimum voltage required for the coil current to
decreases therefore and only by decreasing the pipe rise to its required value before pumping starts when
diameter can the pump operate at high heads. There is the airgap is equal to the stroke. In order to start the
a penalty to be paid in terms of flow rate at the outlet pumping cycle the current must rise to the required
pipe. At 20 Hz the stroke is smaller for the equivalent value in the shortest time possible, so as not to
swept volume compared to 10 Hz, leading to a greater introduce too long a delay in the pumping cycle.
thrust force from the actuator and better performance at Setting the rise time equal to the time constant should
higher heads. not present a significant delay. The coil resistance is
1.2 R giving a time constant of 0.033 seconds. The PV
voltage required is therefore at least 24 V.
100

Once the coil current rises to the maximum available


80 from the PV panel some control may be required to
IO maintain this current taking into account the rising
-E 60 -0.15 11s inductance and operating point on the I-V
50 . . . . . 0.2 11s characteristic.

30
Design Summary
_5
0
0 20 40 60 80
Based on the fmdings in the design study performance
diameter (mml
parameters have been generated using the simple
model for a low and high head. The results are shown
Figure 7 : Head vs pipe diameter at different swept
in Table 2. The results imply that the pump system can
volumes at f=lOHz
operate over a wide range of beads, only requiring an
increase in.supply voltage as the head increases.
285

pumping
. . - successes and problems". in
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Issues. 1998: Marrakech.
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- and United
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5. Cawood, W., Maphephetheni: "Renewahles at
Control System work in a South African rural development
program" , in Renewable Energy World.
2001. pp. 86-99.
For ease of maintenance the control system should be 6. - - D.. Lawrence, W., and Wichert,
Langridge,
W., "Development of a Photovoltaic Pumping
very simple. Its main function is to de-energise the
actuator once the stroke has been achieved. A trip -
Svstem using a Brushless DC Motor and
Helical Rotor Pump." Solar Energy, 1996.
switch is the simplest method of achieving this control.
56(2): pp. 151-160.
However, the energy stored in the actuator coil has to
be removed as soon as possible, which could be 7. Akbaba. M.. Oamber.. I.., and Kamal.. "A..,
I I .

Matching of Separately Excited DC Motors to


achieved by dumping the energy into a resistor. The
piston will then fall under the pressure of the Photovoltaic Generators for Maximum Power
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-
supply back across the coil provided the current has 8. Metwally, H.M.B. and Anis, W.R.,
reached zero. Some form of current sensing will he "Performance Analysis of PV Pumping
Systems using Switched Reluctance Motor
required to ensure that the coil current has fallen to
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161.168.
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6(3): pp. 295-308.
IO Hammad, M.A., "Characteristics of solar
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24(2): pp. 85-92.
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-
13. Weh, H., Hoffman, H., and Landrath, J. "New
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