Valves, Actuators & Pump Control

Drives for solar-powered pump systems

February 2021 Valves, Actuators & Pump Control

BMG’s electromechanical specialists, with extensive experience in gearing, have extended their solutions service to include solar inverters and drives, which are designed to enhance efficiency of photovoltaic (PV) systems.

“PV modules, which use sunlight to generate electricity, are gaining popularity globally as a form of renewable energy that is clean, emission-free, sustainable, safe and cost efficient,” explains Mick Baugh, electronics manager, BMG’s electromechanical division. “Through the use of environmentally-friendly PV technology to generate electrical power, companies in South Africa are finding effective solutions to combat the country’s grave electricity crisis. The benefits of using eco-friendly solar-powered pumps for irrigation, animal farming and community water supply include an uninterrupted water supply during the day and independence from the unreliable grid. In addition, advanced PV systems require minimal maintenance, which is an important advantage in remote areas where servicing is difficult.

“Solar pump systems, which are particularly popular in remote areas where electricity is unavailable, require a solar inverter to convert the DC generated by solar panels into AC for use in industrial, commercial and residential applications. A key differentiator in the selection of the correct inverter is its ability to run the motor pump at the optimal working voltage and power ratings, to ensure solar panels deliver the highest possible power in various irradiation and ambient temperature conditions.

“For optimum performance of the PV pump system, we believe it is critical for users to fully understand the control strategy of the system and to consider factors like where to install the drive, condensation issues, the temperature range and the backup supply.”

Control strategy

Simpler solar-powered drives for pumping applications operate as under-voltage regulators, lowering the pump speed (thus reducing the absorbed power) when the DC voltage reaches a minimum voltage set-point. This simple control mode negatively impacts performance of the PV modules, since they operate at a non-optimal voltage.

In advanced controllers, the drive works to obtain the maximum power from solar panels by keeping the DC voltage at the MPP (maximum power point). Drives that operate at a constant DC voltage must be selected depending on the electrical characteristics of the installed PV system and should optimise the hydraulic efficiency of the pump.

BMG specialists recommend the use of Vacon solar-powered drives that feature MPPT (maximum power point tracking) control to ensure an optimal operating voltage for PV modules in pump applications. These highly efficient controllers provide extended running hours, with an earlier start and later stop. Consequently, more water is pumped per Watt-peak (Wp) of installed PV modules, leading to reduced investment costs and a quicker payback period. MPPT controllers detect instantaneous irradiance or temperature variations and omit local maximums, which are generated in partial shading conditions or from degraded modules in the PV array.

Cabinet or outdoor installations

Conventional solar pump inverters are usually IP20 or IP21 devices that are installed inside a cabinet along with components, including fuses, a power switch, lightning protection and door-mounted LEDs/bulbs. BMG specialists do not recommend this system because cabinets need to be ventilated to avoid overheating of the enclosed elements. Overheating produces derating and reduces the lifetime of the drive. Also, airflow though the cabinet needs to be filtered to avoid dust collection, and filters must be periodically cleaned and replaced, which increases risks and maintenance costs.

BMG’s Vacon IP66 drive solutions for outdoor installations consist of small enclosures, which are separated from the drive, to house the mains switch and surge protection device. The Vacon IP66 drive can be installed outdoors without any reliability risk and does not require maintenance, as there are no filters to clean or replace. Drives can be mounted in the same structure as the PV modules, taking advantage of their shading to avoid overheating, and thus derating, due to direct sun on the drive.

This ground-level system is fitted with LEDs that allow external visibility of the operating conditions of the drive, including power-on, run, ready and fault. An IP66 display panel provides detailed information on the drive, like running speed and MWh readings.

The enclosure, which is separated from the drive, gives the installer flexibility when designing a cabinet that is suitable to run a pump in different layouts.

For more information contact Mick Baugh, BMG, +27 11 620 1538,,


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