Most solar PV installations are currently fixed system. Although solar tracking systems are capable of altering their angular position to follow the sun dial path and increases daily power generation efficiency, they have not emerged in the mainstream due to issues related to installation, maintenance and price.
Energy Trend has conducted an exclusive interview with Topper Sun Energy, a subsidiary of Big Sun Energy Group, to explore their latest product, the iPV Solar Tracker. This system is known for its high efficiency, great reliability, and cost effectiveness. It has already been successfully commercialized after going through three years of development and validation.
|Summer Luo, Chairman of Big Sun Energy Group.|
iPV Solar Tracker Features
“This is the unique solar tracker in the world, and it has already acquired numerous invention patents in EU, Japan, USA, China and etc.,”Summer Luo, Chairman of Big Sun Energy Group, commented on their in-house developed iPV intelligent solar tracking system.
There are many mechanisms to drive solar trackers. The most common one is a pair of dual solar wheel axes which allows rotation up to around 270 degrees. Topper Sun’s iPV Solar Tracker adopts a unique universal axis design that couples with affordable and stable steel cable pulley system. It is the first solar tracker in the world that can rotate 360 degrees (elevation angle of 40-130 degrees). Its “dynamic balancing” structure moves similarly to an elevator or a seesaw -- the four corners of the solar panel platform are secured and strengthened by steel cables and the structural flexibility is enhanced by shock springs that are fixed to the ground. Each iPV Solar Tracker is equipped with a calendar program that calculates the sun’s orbit. By simply setting the latitude and longitude of the location, the system will automatically adjust its angles every five minutes to track the sunlight. Accordingly, the iPV Solar Tracking system is so simple that energy consumption and maintenance costs are very low.
|The iPV Solar Tracker.|
The iPV Solar Tracker was awarded the National Industrial Innovation Achievement Award in 2013. Only ten out of a hundred manufacturers received this award and Topper Sun Energy was the only PV manufacturer of all the awardees. Topper Sun Energy has also received patents in Taiwan, Japan, Europe, USA, and China. They have also built solar power plants that are already operational in Taiwan and Japan. The iPV solar tracker’s unique, stable, and low energy consuming features are hard to beat under a twenty-year patent protection period. Luo said: “Our target is to develop cheap and useful products.“
The cost of the iPV Solar Tracker can be as low as US$0.5-0.7/W, which is cheaper than other solar trackers that cost US$0.8-1.5/W. In Taiwan, the iPV solar tracking system has achieved a record of generating 8.16 kWh per kW in a single day. Topper Sun Energy estimates that the average annual power generated by the iPV Solar Tracker in sunny regions would be 40%-50% more than fixed PV systems, which will lead to a 30% rise in average annual power globally. In polar regions where there are only polar days, power generated by the iPV Solar Tracker may even be increased over 100%. Due to the increased power generated, the same level of power efficiency may be maintained using fewer PV modules. In addition, judging from the price of US$0.5/W, the power efficiency is much higher even though the iPV Solar Tracker’s installation cost is 10% more than fixed PV systems. Overall, it is more cost-effective.
|An Example of iPV Solar Tracker system|
The biggest challenges for fixed PV systems are climate and regional sun angles. Yet, the iPV Solar Tracker has overcome these obstacles. In addition, the maintenance cost for large iPV Solar plants is lower than conventional solar trackers and even lower than fixed PV systems. An iPV solar project in Tainan has maintained a zero-maintenance record. There are four major characteristics of the iPV solar tracker that can solve all the problems related to climate and shading.
- Wind proofing: Equipped with an anemometer, once the wind speed exceeds a designated level, the system can be manually or automatically adjusted to emergency mode to parallel the platform to the ground. At this mode, the system can sustain a maximum wind speed of 300 km/hour and can continue to generate electricity during the daytime.
- Dust removal: Due to the system’s ability to rotate 360 degrees and its larger tilt angle, it could be harder for dust and water to be piled up compared to fixed PV systems. As a result, it is less likely to encounter problems such as lower power generation rate or the inability to generate electricity.
- Shade proofing: Among large arrays, the iPV Solar tracker with smart control system can not only automatically adjust angles to track the sunlight, but also adjusts its own angles based on the surrounding trackers’ angles so that each module can receive sunlight entirely to obtain maximum power efficiency.
- Snow removal: The iPV Solar Tracker can rotate 360 degrees, pushing the surrounding snow away by the rotating panels. Snow will be removed and hence it is less likely for the system to be buried.
These features are the reason why the iPV Solar Tracker gets its name: intelligent PV solar tracker. The iPV Solar Tracker developed by Topper Sun is suitable throughout the world. The automated angle adjustment program has raised power efficiency approximately 5% when compared to conventional solar trackers. Overall, the iPV Solar Tracker can effectively reduce cleaning and maintenance requirements. The simpler structure, more comprehensive applicability, and higher power efficiency bring a more affordable price. At the same time, it also reduces module and inverter cost per kW.
Moreover, power condition of each grid-connected iPV tracking system may be monitored through applications (app) on mobile devices. The daily power condition of each system can be monitored on Topper Sun’s website. During this interview, Luo used his PC tablet to demonstrate the power condition of a 500kW project in Hyogo, Japan for a random date in mid-April. It showed power generation of more than 7kWh per kW.
|iPV Solar Trackers being paralleled to the ground.|
Promotion and Agricultural Partnership: Green Sun Program
There have been many power plants in Taiwan and Japan that adopt the iPV Solar Trackers, which shows the high popularity of the iPV Solar Tracker in these regions. Meanwhile, there are PV test stations installed in specific places of China such as Ninghai. Luo stated, aside from conventional ground mounted and rooftop applications, the iPV Solar Tracker can also be integrated with agricultural sector. The Green Sun Program is one of the major plans that Topper Sun is promoting.
The Green Sun Program aims at adjusting the sunlight intensity for crops under partial sun/shade large arrays. At these farms, Topper Sun assists project developers in constructing net houses or greenhouses on the ground and built iPV Solar Trackers (24 modules that can each generate 6kW of power) on the top of these houses. In this way, they are hoping to change rural ecology by combining agriculture with solar energy. Furthermore, solar tracker’s shading effect can create a partial sun/shade environment for farmland, which is suitable to grow crops such as coffee and cocoa.
“We have installed the iPV Solar Trackers at chicken and mushroom farms in the regions of Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan, and Pingtung. Also, there’s the first and the largest wood ear fungus PV farm in Taiwan,” noted Luo.
The Green Sun Program can provide power to farms and the electricity can be sold back to Taipower. If anyone has NT$5 million dollars, he/she can work with Topper Sun to build small-scale iPV solar plants right away.
|An example of iPv Solar Tracker System|
Global Strategy Deployment
iPV Solar Tracker is a product developed by Topper Sun and is targeting commercial usage. Thus, its price and performance advantages are especially focused on. Luo confidently said: “Topper Sun’s iPV Solar Tracker has a simple structure, high reliability, low maintenance cost, and smart control features. It’s by far the best sun tracker in the world. In addition, when used with PV cells that have high conversion efficiency, the total power generation efficiency will be even higher.”
Components for Topper Sun’s designed and patented iPV solar trackers are produced and assembled by manufacturers around the world. The company is responsible for the sales and global strategy planning sectors. Topper Sun’s current goal is to let worldwide clients understand their products and will provide a free set of 3kW (60cells/12modules) iPV Solar Tracker to 30 global manufacturers for reference.
When being asked about whether they will enter China, the world’s largest PV market, Luo indicated that since Chinese PV product prices are relatively low, they will have to promote the sales through demonstration projects. In fact, Topper Sun has already built demonstration projects in certain regions, such as Ninghai and so on. If they do enter the Chinese market in the future, they will keep their project size between 6MW-20MW. But they won’t simply target their iPV solar trackers in China. “We hope all PV systems will use solar trackers in the future,” said Luo.
(Photo Curtesy: Big Sun Energy Group)