Maximizing the generation performance of a solar project is critical to any project’s overall success, as power delivery contracts and payback periods all hinge on an installation operating at its absolute peak for as many hours out of the year as possible.
A number of different solutions have been instituted over the years to increase power generation at a low enough of a cost as to not offset the value of the power gains. Bifacial panels and single-axis trackers are perhaps the most visible examples of solutions to squeeze out extra generation, however plant control and monitoring software have emerged in recent history to offer additional gains through advanced sun tracking and machine learning.
One such software is Nextracker’s TrueCapture, a smart tracker yield-optimization and control software that combines advanced sensing with machine-learning technologies to help mitigate energy losses and boost plant performance. The software continuously dispatches optimal tracking algorithms to each tracker row in an installation, correcting for inter-row shading anomalies caused by uneven ground and diffuse light conditions caused by cloudiness or haze.
According to the company, the increase in power production results in better performance, lower levelized cost of energy (LCOE), and maximized financial returns for the asset owner.
To prove these claims were more than promotional language for the company’s product, Nextracker teamed up with Arevon, which owns the 38 MW Beacon 5 solar project in Kern County, California. First built in 2017, the installation experienced some difficulties in consistently achieving maximum generation, namely due to the site’s undulating terrain and array layout, both of which led to “significant” row-to-row shading.
Nextracker proposed implementing TrueCapture at the Beacon 5, and the project was upgraded in 2019 with software that utilizes both row-to-row and diffuse light optimization features.
With the assistance of independent engineering consultant Black & Veatch, Nextracker carried out sitewide validation experiments at Beacon 5 by dividing the project’s panel rows into two equivalent groups: a test groups, which instituted TrueCapture, and a control group, which used a standard tracking mode without TrueCapture.
The two groups were split to represent, at a baseline, as close to 50% of overall generation each as possible. Before the testing started, Black & Veatch performed an independent analysis confirming a positive bias toward the control group to enable a conservative assessment of the TrueCapture performance.
After 12 months of testing, the TrueCapture test group outperformed the control group by 2.21% during that time, according to the bias-adjusted data validated by Black & Veatch. According to Nextracker, the results are attributable to TrueCapture’s ability to mitigate production losses caused by inter-row shading and diffuse irradiance.
In response to the findings of the test, Nextracker and Arevon signed a master services agreement to include TrueCapture on all new projects, while adding the software into the operations of seven legacy solar plants run by Arevon in Indiana and Nevada. All are expected to be operational by the end of 2023.
As of the end of 2021, TrueCapture has been adopted by more than 20 GW across more than 150 projects.
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