In Conversation with Mr. Dan Shugar, CEO, NEXTracker
1. Let’s begin with a glimpse of your company’s presence and offerings in India?
NEXTracker entered India two years ago and over the course of two years, NEXTracker has witnessed tremendous growth in the Indian market. To date, in India the company has delivered over 1GW of solar tracker product to seven clients on 21 solar farm projects spread over six states. India is currently among top 5 markets for the company globally. We plan on bidding on 2GW of projects in India in the mid-term. We have recently expanded our Hyderabad office and leadership capabilities, serving India and beyond, with more than 700 staff members since its establishment in 2016. In addition, in India we have a new tube manufacturing line currently under construction that will be operational later this year, accelerating project velocity and lowering logistics costs for projects.
Given that the Government has emphasized on the deployment of solar energy to meet its sustainability goals, there is a significant demand for smart tracking systems in India and this demand is only expected to grow.
Our collaboration with our customers is for the long term, demonstrated by incorporating feedback from customers into our product and adapting our technology to local India conditions – from market and geotechnical standpoints.
Recently, NEXTracker partnered with Apollo steel to manufacture additional structural components of its solar tracking systems locally by 80%, by volume and weight of its final product which, has helped in reducing shipment time as much as 50%, with significant reductions in logistics costs.
NEXTracker also partnered with CleanMax Solar, India’s largest solar developer for corporate consumers, to supply 30 MW of its advanced NX Horizon single-axis trackers which delivers energy to a major IT consumer in Chennai. With this, the NEXTracker system is currently generating 15% more energy over the standard ﬁxed-tilt systems. In the past, the company has supplied to India’s largest solar tracker project for 105 MW Adani Power Plant in Punjab.
NEXTracker’s success in the region can be attributed to the high-quality design, reliable performance, and an exceptional level of service and relationship-building with local and international partners. In addition, the company’s business strategies for India has been closely aligned with Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s National Solar Mission and Make in India program. With this, the company aims to expand its manufacturing capability and is currently, working on number of new projects.
2. What have been some of the recent developments at your organisation?
Earlier this year, NEXTracker™ launched ‘TrueCapture’, a first-of-its-kind intelligent, self-adjusting tracker control system for solar power plants at Intersolar, North America. The technology is designed to continuously refine the tracking algorithm of each individual solar array in response to existing site and weather conditions.
Currently, NEXTracker™ has two field trials going on in India to test the diffuse light tracking feature of TrueCapture. With this project, the site has the potential to gain an additional energy yield of 6% yearly for IPPs and plant owners, which is in addition to the 15-25% additional gain from using NEXTracker’s smart solar tracker over fixed tilt application. One of these field trials is being undertaken at CleanMax Solar.
Recently, NEXTracker™ reached an industry-first milestone of ten gigawatts (10 GW) of trackers sold to hundreds of projects across USA, India, Europe, China, Latin America, and Australia. NEXTracker has become the solar tracker market share leader for the second consecutive year and the company aims to continue increasing global demand for smart tracking systems.
3. What innovations have been made in the recent years in the tracking industry? How far has this industry come from its initial years?
In 2014, NEXTracker™ pioneered the independent row tracker, NX Horizon™, which is the most advanced single-axis horizontal tracker in the market that has helped in tracking the sun more efficiently. Each tracker row tracker includes a small solar panel, which enables it to be self-powered from the sun that does not enforce any parasitic load. In general, the self-powered design allowed for independent rows; this benefits plant owners as it helps in maximizing yield, reducing operations and maintenance (O&M) in terms of panel cleaning and vegetation management as well as OPEX costs, considerably.
Industry reports suggest that global solar trackers market with an annual installed capacity of 1188.5 MW in 2010, is expected to reach an installed capacity of 6998.8 MW by 2020. In India, the studies state that during FY 2015 the tracker installations went beyond the fixed requirements, leading to an increase in revenue generation up to 4 times. On account of the growing green technology, experts estimate that solar tracker market will experience further significant growth that would ultimately help generate more energy and stable power output, which a fixed system would not be able to deliver. The rapid development of this sector can also be attributed to the innovations in energy yield enhancement technologies and software solutions, together with energy storage portfolio.
Source:*Report is by Transparency Market Research on ‘Solar Trackers Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2010 – 2020’
*Report by Ganges Internationale - India Solar Demand Forecast
4. Please tell us about your software technologies for solar trackers.
NEXTracker’s smart, connected solar tracker currently leads with a 30% market share around the world. (GTM, IHS, BNEF, 2017). NEXTracker’s digital O&M™ platform enables to continuously monitor the health and performance of both individual tracker components as well as the overall system operation. The carefully integrated in-house design of the controller hardware, firmware, software and drive systems, helps to keep cost and complexity low while still delivering full value to operators and owners. The company believes that smart, detailed, tireless assistance would be invaluable to customers, as solar plants are growing in number and size. Moreover, the data-driven creation of value has led to improved products, reduced costs, increased uptime and system reliability, and the delivery of innovative features and services, such as NEXTracker’s new TrueCapture energy yield enhancement technology.
Beyond monitoring and diagnostics, NEXTracker has been working on improving systems performance by employing machine learning, predictive modeling and other technologies. Accumulated data sets and advanced techniques are used to explore innovative control approaches and to drive product enhancements. Once the technology is developed, firmware upgrades would be delivered over-the-air via the bidirectional cloud-based data platform to upgrade entire fleets, notwithstanding the size.
For high-quality system integration and user interactivity, NEXTracker is currently working with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems for developing interfaces – in terms of transparency, accessibility, and security.
5. What are your views on cost effectiveness of solar trackers.
Given that solar installations entail huge investments, prudent investors are looking to maximize financial returns and optimize plant performance. Reduction in operations and maintenance (O&M) costs and the overall OPEX cost becomes critical for developers. With this, the market for Single-axis trackers (SATs) have gained momentum as a result of the higher energy yield they produce compared to traditional fixed-tilt systems. The economics have proven themselves and the world over, with more than 80% of ground mount utility scale and distributed generation projects being utilised for single axis trackers now.
Appended below is the white paper explaining why our tracker is more cost effective for long term asset management:
6. What technological breakthroughs can we expect from your company in the coming years?
NEXTracker is continuously coming up with new innovations to provide the best solutions to the global solar market. For NEXTracker, it is all about extending the PV curve with storage.
Currently, the company has a storage portfolio that includes both Lithium Ion and Vanadium flow batteries. While lithium ion-based battery systems have received the lion’s share of energy storage news, vanadium flow batteries (VFBs) are not only cost-effective with multi-gigawatt-scale potential, they pair well and can be intelligently integrated with solar power plants.
NEXTracker launched an innovative solar plus energy-storage solution for U.S. and international markets. NX Fusion Plus integrates the latest, best-in-class solar tracker, battery, inverter, and software to deliver better return on investment to owners of solar power plants. By incorporating battery storage technology into its product, NEXTracker is further increasing the energy output and duration of solar power plants, just as tracking technology did for fixed-tilt solar applications.
NEXTracker’s Standard Container Platform (SCP) for energy storage applications is the most flexible and reliable solution on the market today, providing best-in-class safety features for the most demanding environmental conditions. Supporting multiple battery technologies, SCP provides unprecedented configurability for a wide range of storage applications and project sizes. Engineered to maximize energy and power density in a standardized package, SCP reduces balance of system (BOS) costs from design through installation and operation. NEXTracker SCP applies best practices for lean and robust system integration to drive quality, flexibility and efficiency while reducing BOS and operating costs.
By offering a storage portfolio to our customers, we can better meet the range of their requirements and project site needs.