Advanced Connector Innovations Support Alternative Energy Systems
In advanced commercial markets – such as alternative energy – standards are being defined and product designs revolutionized, starting at the component level. Recent enhancements in connector technology, including insert and contact materials, housing designs, and manufacturing processes, have enabled connectors to be specified for applications in solar, wind and nuclear power, as well as in electric vehicles. In each application, these developments play an integral role in the development of advanced connector designs.
Wind and Solar Power
From generator to motor, motor to fuel cell, and in between, wind power devices require a myriad of advanced connector designs to link each device and control the system amperage. To minimize losses throughout the system, highly efficient interconnects must be employed. Highly efficient, no-loss connectors are achieved through the use of advanced conductive materials.
Highly conductive materials start with specific copper alloys, such as tellurium; design and construction of the contacts; and the dielectric insert technology to isolate currents. Creating the insulation between the actual grounds or conductors in multiple lines of power is critical in terms of developing highconductivity devices. For high power and efficiency, a full 360-degrees of metalto-metal is most desirable in connector construction. While typical socket-andcontact designs are suitable for low frequency signal applications, these standard designs exhibit loss in high frequency applications. Full metal designs, with shielding for each pin and within the connector housing, maintain signal integrity and therefore allow maximum power transmission. Used in the field and subjected to environmental elements, such connectors also must be sealed to IP67/IP68 requirements.
Photovoltaic solar panels are used to convert sunlight directly into energy. Similar to wind turbines, solar panels are being increasingly used to generate power for businesses and homes, and require a series of interconnects to connect the solar panel modules, inverters, and control system without loss. While eliminating all loss is unrealistic, tellurium is often used in place of brass or stainless steel in connector contacts, because it is a more efficient conductor and exhibits less loss than other materials. To accommodate the series of interconnects, innovations such as ITT Interconnect Solutions’ Stackable Interconnect (shown below) are often implemented.
In addition to materials selection, the connector contact designs for wind and photovoltaic solar power applications must also be touch-proof. For example, if separating the junction is necessary for repair purposes while the wind generator is still spinning, one must be very careful to not touch the connector contacts as the generator produces enough energy [amperage] to be fatal. If the interface on the active side of the contact system is made touch-proof, the person performing the repair will not be shocked if their finger touches the connector. To do this, a plastic plunger is often placed over the male pins. This design prevents the potential for human shock by allowing the female contacts to come in contact with only the metal male pin, thus providing an effective finger-proof solution.
These connectors must have an extremely low contact resistance and be properly sealed so that after months or even years in the field, they don’t build up oxidation. If oxidation occurs, the contact resistance will increase over time, negatively impacting the effectiveness of the connector and thus the amperage generated through the system.