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Interaction | April 2018

Trackers gaining prominence worldwide

Creating room for about 20-per cent rise in yields, reducing panel requirements and saving foreign exchange, says <span style="font-weight: bold;">Ritesh Pothan, Senior Vice President, Scorpius Trackers</span> in an interaction with POWER TODAY.<br /> <br /> <span style="font-weight: bold;">What is the contribution of solar trackers in the sector's growth and how much investment is likely to come in?</span><br /> Trackers play a major role in solar photovolatic (PV) globally, with more than 50 per cent of installations using single axis tracking technology. Good quality trackers reduce project costs as well as maintenance needs while enhancing generation by 20 per cent or more depending on the location of the installation. Areas with good direct normal insolation (DNI) and with appropriate technology can see gains in excess of 30 per cent making well-designed trackers a no-brainer for solar projects. Some of the largest tracking single projects touch almost 1 GW at a single location.<br /> <br /> Trackers increase internal rate of return (IRRs) by a minimum of 2 per cent and in good DNI locations almost twice that number. Globally, trackers contribute a majority of projects given the superb value, and a large number of companies have invested in developing tracker technology with notable interest in the space by investors.<br /> <br /> <span style="font-weight: bold;">List the challenges of using a solar tracker. </span><br /> The increase in IRR works out to between 2-4 per cent on IRR which is a substantial boost depending on the location. On an average, a minimum of 18-per cent generation gains over fixed tilt - this is the norm in India. However, we have seen cases of 21 per cent and more.<br /> <br /> The overall capex for a good tracking plant is lower than fixed/seasonal tilt with the added benefit of reduced operations and maintenance (O&amp;M) across the project due to reduction in the number of panels as well as reduced foreign remittances.<br /> <br /> The fixed tilt systems in India are designed on paper without actual validation using globally accepted standards of boundary layer wind tunnel testing and bankability which results in increased risks for projects that in the past has suffered structural damage due to incorrect design methodology.<br /> <br /> Solar PV system with single-axis trackers provides up to 20 per cent more generation&nbsp; compared to a fixed tilt solar PV system. Fixed tilt system will&nbsp; need to be oversized to match the generation provided by tracker, and the inverter will clip the power output beyond a point in oversized systems resulting in clipping losses.<br /> <br /> The generation profile of&nbsp; a tracker-based system is more uniform and flat providing higher generation during peak hours than a fixed tilt system which has a bell-shaped generation profile peaking during mid-day.<br /> <br /> For&nbsp; the same required generation, the DC capacity of PV system with trackers will be lower than that of fixed tilt PV system. Due to smaller system size, the O&amp;M costs will be lower for&nbsp; system with trackers. Smaller system size will also mean that a smaller team will be required for O&amp;M activity.<br /> <br /> The cost of higher required DC capacity&nbsp; will increase EPC and land costs for fixed tilt systems&nbsp; which will offset the additional structural cost&nbsp; required for tracker installation.<br /> <br /> Also, higher O&amp;M costs will raise operating costs for fixed tilt systems. The lower capital and operating costs for PV system with trackers&nbsp; will result in higher ROI.<br /> <br /> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Discuss the emerging trends and technology in solar tracker syste</span>ms.<br /> Our ongoing design focus is on reduction of O&amp;M requirements for the life of the plant with zero compromise in quality. Solar rooftops are the need of the hour and we are looking to release a working version by June 2018 to cater to the vast demand in the market for a reliable, validated and bankable tracking system for the vast rooftop space.<br /> <br /> The robotic cleaning market is another area which needs concentrated efforts to reduce the impact of pollution and dust on the generation. Trackers bring in further advantages by requiring reduced cleaning cycles due to the movement of the panels which collect far less dust and particles vs a fixed tilt system.<br /> <br /> Another key point to note is that seasonal tilt systems are onerous and laborious to use as well as change angles twice a year. Additionally, micro cracks and system vibrations impacts the stability of the structure creating huge impact on the performance of the plants.<br /> <br /> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Which sector contributes the most to the growth and demand of trackers?</span><br /> The ground mounting (GM) segment will account for 99 per cent of installation given the grid load requirements in the close foreseeable future. However, new and improved designs will come together to deliver viable technology to rooftops when the demand is significant. The roof is the optimal place for trackers as space is limited with maximum generation requirements which is a pillar of tracking technology. However, the varied roof profiles makes this a difficult ask but like they say 'necessity is the mother of invention'.<br /> <br /> Given that good trackers increase yields by 20 per cent or more the market is gravitating towards this technology and a lot of the inertia will dissipate in this year where trackers will reduce panel requirements and save precious foreign exchange as well as deliver robust solutions.<br /> <br /> Many large-scale PV plants being installed today have solar panels mounted on fixed structures, which leads to lesser generation as they are fixed only at a particular angle. To capture maximum solar insolation, a solar tracker system can be designed which changes its position automatically in accordance with the sun's movement. A solar PV tracker is a system that orients a solar panel toward the sun. Trackers are used to minimise the angle of incidence between the incoming sunlight and a photovoltaic panel. This increases the amount of energy produced from a fixed amount of installed power generating capacity. Thus, the primary benefit of a tracking system is to collect solar energy for the longest period of the day.<br /> <br /> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Which tracker system is your company using? </span><br /> How can solar-tracker installation be made easier without welding? <br /> We are the only global technology with bankable BLOCK and ROW technology completely developed in-house with multiple patents. Well-designed trackers can be deployed in dusty as well as dirty environments with lower impact than other stationary or semi-stationary technologies. The best way to address this is to undergo an exhaustive independent engineers bankability review. <br /> <br /> <span style="font-weight: bold;">What are the sales prospects for solar trackers this year?</span><br /> The sales prospects are extensive with very large projects under consideration across the globe. Trackers are the defacto standard for installations globally while the current focus on price has impacted the quality parameters in the country significantly with price being the primary factor for delivering projects rather than technology. But, this is slowly changing and moving towards a more progressive environment where single-axis trackers are now the defacto standard across the country.<br /> <br /> Over the past few years, the industry has begun to move away from fixed-tilt racking structures to trackers due to their higher energy yield. <br /> <br /> Horizontal, single-axis trackers are now the leading choice among trackers since they can deliver 20-30 per cent more energy without the added cost and complexities of dual-axis or azimuth tracking systems.<br /> <br /> By 2018, the Asia-Pacific region will be the largest regional market for trackers, as the Indian utility market grows and the Chinese market matures.<br /> The USA will remain the leading market for trackers through 2021 (less than 70 per cent of US GM projects <br /> with trackers).<br /> <br /> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Throw light on your order book and projects lying in the pipeline. </span><br /> We have built a gigawatt order book covering global projects. We are India's largest suppliers of single-axis solar PV trackers with over 250 MW of trackers supplied in India, Japan, Africa and USA, and have already signed exclusive supply memorandum of understanding (MoUs) with large independent project developers in India for 875 MW and are confident of closing out between 750 MW+ to 1,000 MW this year.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <span style="font-weight: bold;">Talk about the system's cost efficiency. Can its installation pump up a project's capital cost?</span> <br /> It is a myth that trackers increase project capital cost. In fact, capex for a MU equivalent trackers plant is lower than a fixed/seasonal tilt plant.<br /> <br /> On a MU generation basis, well-designed trackers are more economical and reliable compared to other systems which tilt the panels two or three times a year.<br /> If a 1-MW fixed tilt system generates 1.6 MU per year then a tracker requires between 800 kW-850 kW of solar panels to generate 1.6 MU per year spread across the day/year providing crucial early morning and late evening power unlike FT systems.<br /> <br /> The savings results in reduced panels, inverter, labour, combiner boxes and a whole lot of other items as well which make for a smarter and more economical solution while creating ongoing local jobs and employment.<br /> <br /> The solar market is growing by leaps and bounds and trackers are contributing to a significant portion of the market. The ability to deliver better quality at better economics tilts the scales in favour of good tracker technology with zero additional mechanical O&amp;M.<br /> <br /> By 2018, the Asia-Pacific region will be the largest regional market for trackers, as the Indian utility market grows and the Chinese market matures.<br />
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