This year's $8 billion market opportunity for solar racking and tracking is just the beginning.
The GTM Research/Solvida Energy Group report Global Solar PV Balance-of-System (BOS) Markets: Technologies, Costs and Leading Companies, 2013-2016 predicted a tripling of the market by 2016 with winners in the sector showing better system productivity along with a reduction in materials costs.
“There is no other single BOS component that can increase a PV system’s performance like a tracker,” GTM Research/Solvida Energy Group reported. “By maintaining consistent direct exposure from the sun to the photovoltaic surface of the modules, trackers can improve a PV system’s output by up to 40 percent over a ﬁxed-tilt array.”
Array Technologies is an acknowledged U.S. market leader and Ideematec is emerging internationally. Solon, DEGERenergie, and Sonnen Systems have moved into the U.S. market from Germany, and Mecasolar has entered from Spain. QBotix is innovating in robotic trackers.
The IRR for ground-mounted projects on fixed-tilt racks is too low to attract a steady flow of capital, according to a presentation from HST Solar, because installation costs are too high and output is marginal in many sunny places.
Solaria, Exosun and HST Solar are among the emerging players bringing innovation to this fast-growing segment of the solar BOS market, which is expected to have five-year CAGR of more than 30 percent.
Solaria's “balanced-mass, self-grounding” NEXTracker is aimed at cutting rack foundation construction costs. Its independent rows increase productivity by allowing the “maximum flexibility in system design” and “wider rotation angles.” It also reportedly allows four to five times faster maintenance.
According to the company, this can increase a site’s power capacity by 10 percent to 20 percent, and even with the increased expense of the tracking system, can increase project profits by 5 percent to 10 percent.
An aggregate capacity of 35 megawatts in North America and Europe, including a number of SunEdison 2014 projects, will soon be testing Solaria’s claims.
Exosun is growing in the French market and looking toward the U.S. market. Its Exotrack HZ tracker just won the 12-megawatt Langelé solar plant project on the strength of its performance at the 3.8-megawatt Porette de Nérone solar plant.
The firm's tracker has three advantages, according to CEO Frederic Conchy:
- A centralized controller simplifies the software-hardware interface
- Five to six of its smaller, more powerful motors can control a megawatt of PV, and the motor’s advanced composite materials virtually eliminate the need for lubrication
- A proprietary installation process that takes 600 man-hours to 700 man-hours per megawatt to build makes the single-axis system “as easy as a fixed-axis system to install”
Startup HST Solar is headed by solar industry veterans, including engineers that helped develop eSolar’s heliostat system. The ready-to-build platform requires only hand tools. It has also “been veriﬁed by installers to be installable for $0.02 per watt or less,” according to the company.
The system’s eSolar-designed motors have been proven, HST adds, through “millions of operation hours in previous solar applications in the U.S. and Asia.” Proprietary controls and intelligence provide full-ﬁeld visual simulations that allow sequencing control for wind stow and positioning and shadowing avoidance. The foundationless substructure can be installed with screws and “withstand winds of 120 mph (or higher with customized install).”
Proof of HST Solar's claims will come soon through “multiple contracts for trial projects across the U.S., South Africa and Chile.”
“As module prices decline, the price gap between the cost of tracking and ﬁxed-tilt compresses,” the GTM Research/Solvida Energy Group report explains, but “the choice between a fixed system and a tracking system is by no means simple.”
Developers have to consider cost, utility rate structure, conversion efficiency, land availability, and geographical factors because “in most locations, each system type will carry some benefits relative to the other.”