Riding the French Express to higher capacity factors


In 2016, we noted that 79% of U.S. utility scale installations utilized single-axis trackers, and more than 11.6 GW of the product was shipped worldwide. In 2017, that grew to almost 15 GW, and in 2018 it could break 20 GW.

It seems that almost all large installations covered by pv magazine recently use single axis trackers – the First Solar, NexTracker and Tesla beauty in Arizona, or possibly the new Texas-sized 315 MW plant coming, or a large chunk of the recent Warren Buffett purchase of 1 GW+ of solar – one project of which set new records for the United States at 2.375¢/kWh.

Now, NEXTracker is seeking to take its technology a step further by purchasing intellectual property from Optimum Tracker. NEXTracker says the technology, including issued and pending patents, is “especially relevant” for smart tracking control and selected mechanical elements.

While NexTracker CEO Daniel Shugar wouldn’t get into specific details regarding the technology on the phone with pv magazine, he did spend some time talking about broader applications of the newly acquired knowledge.

The solar racking industry is moving away from being a commodity play – selling aluminum – and towards software and intelligence. This purchase is part of the evolution, the transition of incorporating distributed intelligence in racking.

Shug referenced a presentation he made recently where the theme was focused on platform intelligence. NEXTracker showed data for everything – every row, every tracker, every solar panel angle, and the amount of current going to every single motor. With all of this data NEXTracker needed something more – and that led them to Optimum Tacker.

With the light touch of a CEO from a publicly traded company doing his best not to talk about competitive data, Shug expressed how the IP from Optimum Tracker would complement the tools NEXTracker already has in the field, in addition to helping it further develop its data platforms.

Using the data we currently have, we can remotely tell the health of the mechanical aspects of our projects. This data lets us balance a 7,000 to 8,000 pound row of solar panels just right. This IP from Optimum will let use make use of this data in a broader manner.

Shug also noted that the upgraded platform (and platform was a key word in the discussion) was specifically aimed to add to the company’s already successful TrueCapture algorithms which optimize solar panel placement to maximize production, and that the new IP would help already deployed projects in addition to future developments.

When asked about where capacity factors of solar power plants could head – and really, capacity factor is one of the greatest selling points of a NEXTracker single axis system (note here that the above referenced 315 MW Texas plant projects an eye popping 33.7% AC capacity factor) – Shug added in energy storage:

Our TrueCapture products works really well when you need power on the plant’s production shoulders and during diffuse periods. The NX Flow – vanadium flow battery integrated into a NexTracker system – plays really well with these advanced algorithms. No cooling needed, no parasitic load, no fire suppression. And it provides firm power late into the evening.

NEXTracker notes that on some weeks they are manufacturing as much as 100 MW of product, and this IP will be part of that.

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