Is there a better way to improve a solar system’s energy generation capacity other than increasing PV cells’ conversion efficiency? Taiwan solar energy manufacturer Big Sun has the solution with their iPV® Solar Tracker which enable PV modules to follow the sun throughout the day. Big Sun’s subsidiary Topper Sun has developed this unique solar tracking system which increases power generation yield from 30% to 40% compared to fixed type PV systems. The iPV® Solar Tracker has a sturdy and simple design that is well suited for a variety of environments and can accommodate adverse conditions such as strong winds, snow, and dust. As a result, Topper Sun’s iPV® Solar Tracker has successfully established itself as one of the leading tracking systems in the global PV market.
Stability is the iPV® Solar Tracker’s most valuable feature
Based on its universal axis mechanism and stainless steel cable transmissions, the iPV® Solar Tracker’s simple and durable structure requires minimal power and maintenance. Lower costs and higher generation capacity means larger profit. As an example, a gas station in Tainan, Taiwan has installed iPV® Solar Trackers on its canopy and the system’s maximal daily yield is 8.53kW while its average daily production is 5.1kW. The energy generation capacity of this gas station is far above the conventional fixed type PV systems.
|The project atop a gas station in Tainan, Taiwan. (Source: Topper Sun)|
A notable feature of the iPV® Solar Tracker is exemplified during the start of the construction phase. Conventional PV power systems can only be built on a level surface. However, the installation of an iPV® Solar Tracker can be built on land with uneven surfaces or constraint issues. The solar tracker only requires area for a central pillar and four corners for balance. Stability is a core concept factored into the design of the iPV® Solar Tracker. Stainless steel cables are secured at each corner of the PV module mounting platform to protect against strong winds velocities and minimize damages.
“A solar tracker must be well-built in order to operate and accurately follow the sun at its peak efficiency,” said Big Sun’s Chairman Summer Luo. “Maintenance costs must be kept low or else it will offset profit.”
Presently, iPV® Solar Tracker projects around the world have achieved an average reliability rate of 99.9%, and indication of remarkable stability. With the addition of high-efficiency modules, an iPV® Solar Tracker can become even more cost-effective.
|A project in Hyokou, Japan. (Source: Topper Sun)|
Different modes for diverse environments
After years of positioning and promotional activities in the global solar energy market, the made-in-Taiwan iPV® Solar Tracker has established itself abroad with projects in Japan, China, and Europe. In order to adapt to different environments around the globe, Topper Sun has invested greatly in its iPV® software and mechanism. Besides modes that counteract winds, snow, dust and shades, Big Sun has also devised a “sandstorm mode” during its joint project with Chinese firm TBEA in Xinjiang, a region in China that suffers heavy sandstorms.
The sandstorm mode combines anti-wind and anti-dust modes. Since sandstorms occur seasonally and have prevailing wind directions, it is possible to have the PV modules change their operations according to regional and climatic factors. For instance, PV modules can be oriented parallel to the wind’s direction with their frame edges facing the brunt of the blowing sand. This way, the module’s glass panels and backsheets will not be worn out. After the sandstorm blows over, PV modules can be tilted to allow accumulated sand to fall away from their surfaces and power generation can resume.
In contrast to operating in dry and dusty regions, PV installations near seashores face a different threat: salt sprays. Currently there is no single, complete method to fight against the corrosion effects of salt sprays, so leading solutions focus on anti-rust coating and regular maintenance. Luo offers Topper Sun’s patented PV modules as excellent examples of modules capable of resisting rust and salt spray corrosion. Zinc-plated solar tracker mounting, which offers additional protection, can be used with Topper Sun’s modules. The entire corrosion-proof system will function for as long as possible with regular paint jobs.
Solar Trackers are also suited for agricultural application under its “cultivation mode” that adjusts sunlight intensity for crops. Crops growing under iPV® Solar Trackers can enjoy the right amount of sunlight they need as the solar trackers changes the PV modules angles according to particular farming schedules. Greenhouses furnished with iPV® Solar Trackers can provide crops huge benefits even as some power generation capacity is expended under the cultivation mode. On the whole, these modes of operation show that the iPV® Solar Tracker’s hardware and software are constantly evolving as the system advances into different areas of the global market.
|The iPV® Solar Track can work in the snow. (Source: Topper Sun)|
Big Sun’s business model – patents on one hand and Big Data on the other
The iPV® Solar Tracker is more than prepared for working with Big Data and Cloud in the present age of the Internet. Every iPV® Solar Tracker system is equipped with a monitoring system that allows operators to individually adjust or check their solar trackers. The power generation records of trackers from different areas are uploaded to Big Sun’s proprietary database, where their statistical information can be gathered and used to analyze regional climates and environmental conditions. This will help maximize the power generation capacity of solar plants around the world. As the number of PV projects grows and their needs become more varied and specialized in terms of manufacturing, the iPV® Solar Tracker is built on a business model that is different from vertical integration.
“Big Sun’s business model is similar to Apple,” Luo explained. “We own the patents, the R&D team, and the Big Data from projects around the world. Distributors are found worldwide while purchases are made at the head office. OEMs take care of fabrication and assembly.”
This business model reduces the need to invest in production facilities and allows Big Sun to concentrate on the more profitable area of system design. Luo further revealed that the installations of iPV® Solar Trackers around the world so far have been very successful and the systems are showing concrete results. Big Sun is expected to be publicly listed once a level of profitability has been achieved.
|The cloud monitoring surface of Topper Sun. (Source: Topper Sun)|
Restoring the land while creating economic benefits
As for getting the investment return from installing iPV® systems, Luo stated that this depends on feed-in tariffs in different markets. He offers two successful cases, both of which have maintenance included in their operating costs:
- Case No.1: A 20-year desert project that averagely generates 6.5 kWh per day. The cost of installation is NTD$56,000 per kW and the cost of electricity is NTD$1.18 per kWh.
- Case No. 2: A 20-year project in Taiwan that averagely generates 4.7 kWh per day. The cost of installation is NTD$85,000 and the cost of electricity is NTD$2.5 per kWh.
These two cases show that the iPV® Solar Tracker has a clear advantage in investment return. With increases in production efficiency and stability as well as reductions in production costs and maintenance, the iPV® system has a solid lead over conventional PV systems of the fixed type.
|An example of combining iPV® Solar Trackers with agriculture. (Source: Topper Sun)|
Big Sun’s exhibition in the coming 2015 PV Expo in Tokyo will be a greenhouse that incorporates the iPV® Solar Tracker technology. When combined with agriculture, solar energy not only provides energy for homes in the farming communities, but the excess electricity connected to the grid can also be gathered and sold. The iPV® Solar Tracker’s ability to optimize sunlight intensity and shading can be directed to assist crop cultivation and even protect the soil. Farmers, vendors, and the environment are all winners in the iPV® projects.
In near future, Luo plans to work with farming communities in central and southern Taiwan. This joint program aims to promote prosperity in rural areas through installing a 50kW solar system for each partner. Registered farmers will put up 10% of the total installation expenditure and banks will take up the rest of the financing. Taking in Taiwan’s average generation capacity and Taipower’s feed-in tariff rates, it is estimated that those who registered with the program will receive an annual net profit of NTD$100,000, after the amortization costs and loan. Once the loan is paid off, the annual net profit that comes from power generation is projected at NTD$400,000. Hopefully, this considerable sum will bring benefits to the lives of farming communities.
|A project in Tainan, Taiwan. (Source: Topper Sun)|
With creating public benefits as its core mission, the iPV® Solar Tracker system has expanded beyond its home in sunny Taiwan and secured patents in many countries. Presently, this system has seen great successes in overseas markets such as Japan, Mainland China, Germany, and Italy. Additionally, it has obtained a B&V bankability report for the United States, where it will soon make its debut. The iPV® Solar Tracker is expected to leave the MW scale and establish a new milestone in the GW territory.