For those in the PV industry it is easy to see the growth solar technology is poised to report in the near and long term. Large-scale PV continues to grow further with increased price pressure. Boosting the energy yield for LCOE reduction is key. Thus the number of installations using solar trackers is increasing too. Manufacturers of solar trackers are focused on improving their technology to suit ongoing changes in the industry at large. At the same time, investor interest is also growing in the technology that ensures the solar tracker industry has visibility for profitability and future growth.
To discuss the status, potential and prospects of solar trackers, TaiyangNews held a virtual conference on Solar Trackers—How to Follow The Sun Optimally To Maximize Yield Of Utility-Scale PV Systems on April 13, 2021 with a number of industry stakeholders, right from tracker makers, to developers and industry experts.
Market Survey launch
The conference was meant as a launchpad for our 1st Market Survey on Solar Trackers 2021 that covers 34 products from 19 global suppliers including all market leaders, and provides a summary of key solar trackers’ developments. Launching the survey during the event, TaiyangNews Senior PV Technology Expert Dr. Olga Papathanasiou shared the solar tracker market development over the last years that has seen various technological changes and upgrades. Horizontal-single-axis tracker (HSAT) is the industry’s workhorse. The most important trends are: the trackers’ adjustments to adapt bifacial and the new large scale 600W+ modules together with the implementation of AI based controllers. According to the report, the leading manufacturers have been willing to go the extra mile to customize their tracker offerings to suit individual projects and client requirements. The report will be available on our website for free download as of April 19, 2021.
Speaking about tracker bankability Principal Engineer, Solar Energy Systems with independent assurance and risk management firm DNV, Cesar Hidalgo Lopez, presented aspects that need review to ensure a PV tracker is bankable. However, he stressed that current certification parameters are not up-to-date with changing requirements, technologies and times which may hamper a project’s overall bankability. One issue is the question of responsibility in terms of warranty claims. His conclusion: “Bankable trackers are good quality trackers but this concept involves many parameters to be reviewed.”
BayWa r.e.’s Product Manager Christoph Reiners, touting a global solar PV project pipeline of 24 GW, shared the German PV project developer’s experience with trackers including examples for tailor-made solutions with Zimmermann PV. Reiners was of the view that though it is good to see competition growing in this space, it is equally important for tracker suppliers to agree to modify designs to suit onsite requirements of project developers as mechanical misalignments between trackers and modules can lead to challenges for a solar power project. That’s why BayWa not only uses commercially available tier 1 trackers but co-developed a project with Zimmermann.
Senior Project Manager from European Energy A/S, Jan Vedde shared his company’s experience with tracker technology in the ‘northern’ Northern Hemisphere during the conference. He presented data for fixed tilted HSAT and 1.5 HASAT solar installations, which have been installed in Denmark. He pointed out that all systems are attractive, basis a cost-benefit analysis of the 2 products on case-to-case basis. For instance, trackers with bifacial modules can generate predictable and cost competitive high value electricity, but projects where access to land is limited and unlimited cheap access to power grid, fixed tilt is preferable. Nonetheless, Vedde argued that a full financial modelling is a must to ensure a sane investment decision.
Vice Director, TrinaTracker Product Management from Trina Solar, Kevin Shu presented a comprehensive view of trackers as utility-scale system solution for low-cost operations. Pointing out the fact that all technological improvements in the PV supply chain from wafer to cell and modules are aimed at eventually lowering the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), tracker technology is also making headway in that direction.
Sharing about his company’s tracker products under the brand name TrinaTracker, Shu said the product design factors in both static and aerodynamic phenomena under various weather conditions, and its compatibility with ultra-high power format modules. As a group, Shu added that his company is offering a whole gamut of products and services, right from high power modules to trackers, to cleaning robots and SCADA systems.
Director of Global Engineering and R&D, Arctech Solar Pedro Magalhães batted for many fixed points for ‘rigid trackers’ that stow at 0 degrees to lower pressure on tracker surface & minimize panel load. While so far stow a 0° degress has not been able, this changes when using trackers with many fixed points and a very stiff structure. He emphasized that as module technology undergoes changes towards much larger sizes, tracker producers need to adapt themselves to suit the changes and deal with the fact that what is good for modules might be bad for tracker stability and vice versa.
Examining it further, Design and Engineering Manager of PVHardware (PVH) Eduardo Chillarón during his presentation laid stress on trackers redesign challenge vis-à-vis new extra large modules. He underlined that PVH did a complete redesign to adapt trackers to suit new modules while sharing his company’s new launch Monoline+ in both 1P and 2P configurations. Despite being able to handle larger module sizes, the new trackers offer increased adaptability to terrain, adaptive backtracking 3D to minimize shadow losses and long range and robust wireless communication with long range (LoRa) technology.
One of the most exciting sessions during TaiyangNews conferences is the fire chat and for this one, TaiyangNews Managing Director Michael Schmela engaged Managing Director and Senior Research Analyst—Cleantech with Roth Capital Partners, Philip Shen, and Chief Business Development Officer of US tracker manufacturer GameChange Solar, Arturo Herrero.
One of the well-respected names in cleantech research, Philip Shen shared his insights about the solar tracker industry saying that there is a huge concentration in here by top 2 players so far. He believes this is due to the fact that clients want to mitigate risk and engaging with a market leader takes care of most part of it. However, he sees potential in the quickly growing markets for others as well.
Shen does believe that the solar industry at large has to continue to feel the price pressure in the near term as raw material costs increase including for polysilicon and steel, among others. As for polysilicon, the human rights violation concerns at Chinese polysilicon production hub Xinjiang is likely to gain traction in the times to come and will be key to polysilicon prices. When asked about the growth of the sector this year, he said that he would rather see installation volumes at the lower end of the 160 to 209 GW range BNEF forecasted in its latest market update.
Herrero identified several factors that show the resilience of the solar PV industry and how tracker companies support its proliferation during his fire chat interaction with Schmela. As several tracker companies have been opting to go public, Herrero believes investors are interested in this segment as there is potential for international expansion and profitability, aligned with the global development of solar PV.
Looking into the future, Herrero anticipates operational expenses taking centerstage for companies as there will be increased focus on reducing overall costs for the businesses, as well as technological challenges that supply chain will have to adapt to, to grow with green hydrogen industry.