Next to price, product quality and reliable power generation have become important attributes for consumers looking to buy PV systems. For those working in the industry, “quality” encompasses the efficiency of the PV module, the durability of the balance-of-system (BoS) and the level of care in monitoring and maintenance services. In sum, higher generation efficiency plus reliable operation result in larger returns on investment.
Japan, for example, has been a major solar market since its government launched its Feed-in Tariff Scheme for Renewable Energy in 2012. However, the country’s demand will fall gradually and stay at a more consistent level starting this year. This market trend provides a growth opportunity for high-efficiency PV products, energy storage equipment, real-time monitoring systems and integrated energy solutions. With the Japanese solar market giving quality the same importance as quantity, PV systems that enhance the internal rate of return (IRR) with better power generation capability are poised to take center stage.
There are several ways to improve the power generation of a PV system. Besides increasing the conversion efficiency of the modules, PV power plant owners can deploy solar trackers. Like a sunflower, the solar tracker can extend the actual generation hours per day and shorten the down time by making sure the modules are always turned towards the sun. By minimizing the effect of intermittency, the solar tracker can also reduce the power grid’s adjustment pressure.
Solar Tracker Plus Monitoring System Equals 99.9% Operational Availability
The operational availability of a solar tracker has been a main concern in the industry. To address this issue. BIG SUN, Taiwan-based specialist in solar energy solutions, developed its exclusive iPV Tracker. With more than 2,000 units deployed worldwide, iPV Tracker has achieved an overall operational availability rate of above 90%. BIG SUN also anticipates that there will be rising demand for remote monitoring and control for PV systems in the near future. Hence, the company has also launched iPVita, a real-time monitoring solution that raises the operational availability rate of a solar tracker to 99.9%.
As the first dual-axis solar tracker capable of doing a 360° rotation, iPV Tracker’s universal axis design is really a simple but sturdy construction of steel wire ropes and pulleys that make sure that the modules are facing the sun. The iPV Tracker adjusts its angle every five minutes so that it has on average 30~40% more annual generation capacity over PV systems with fixed-tilt mounting. In areas with plentiful sunshine, iPV Tracker’s generational capacity can even multiply several folds. BIG SUN’s iPV Tracker has proved itself to be dependable with its worldwide deployment, operating in places that have strong winds, lots of dust, lots of shades and heavy snowfall.
BIG SUN’s iPVita is the result of five years of R&D efforts dedicated to strengthening the company’s services for PV systems. As a smart energy monitoring and control platform, iPVita sends accurate, real-time data of PV power plants to their owners or maintenance teams. This technology ensures that systems in each plants are serviced in a timely manner. According to BIG SUN’s Chairman Summer Luo, iPVita is based on the concept of the Internet of Things; therefore, each iPVita smart box can connect and remotely control up to 50 electronic devices, including inverters, AC meters and energy storage equipment.
“With iPVita, clients, EPC contractors and our company staff can instantly access up-to-date information on the connected PV power plant projects,” said Luo. “Since what clients care about the most is generation capacity, we provide a range of system data to meet their demand. Moreover, we also created a mobile app that features both summarized and detailed readings of a power plant’s PV systems. App users can also remotely control the operation of their systems. Currently, this mobile platform is managed by BIG SUN.”
As long as the electronic devices of a PV system remain linked with iPVita and can transmit their data, they can be monitored and set up from anywhere via Wi-Fi, 3G/4G networks or GPS. BIG SUN also uses the latest cloud computing technology to transform the data collected by iPVita into accurate insights that will be useful in future PV plant projects.
The launch of iPVita marked a major change in BIG SUN’s role in the solar energy sector. From its beginning as a manufacturer of high-efficiency PV cells, BIG SUN has evolved into an enterprise that centers on developing advanced solar technology. The company is now committed to provide integrated services at the downstream of the solar supply chain. Luo explained that the goal behind the development of iPVita is to offer the market a more comprehensive, long-term operation and maintenance (O&M) solution. The IoT-based platform also complements solar trackers. The collaboration of iPVita and iPV Tracker, for instance, can drastically increase the efficiency of a PV power plant.
An integrated solution to longer generation hours and higher quality of power
BIG SUN designed iPVita to work seamlessly with iPV Tracker for better power generation efficiency. With iPVita, iPV Tracker will automatically synchronize with the local standard time every day. Therefore, iPV Tracker plus iPVita will never miss sunlight due to misalignment and their power generation efficiency will climb to a higher level in the long run.
Luo emphasized that the demand in the market will soon shift to the quality of power generation. A PV system of high quality therefore must be able to generate a large and steady flow of electricity. Since the sun is an intermittent energy source, the amount of power that a fixed PV system produces during daytime can fluctuate even if we exclude intensity of sunlight as a factor. This fluctuation in power generation could in turn affect the stability of the grid. Using iPV Tracker, on the other hand, means that PV power plants will constantly supply power to the grid during daytime.
Luo also pointed to the successful deployments of iPV Tracker systems in Taiwan, Japan, Luxemburg and China’s Xinjiang province: “Regardless of the seasons, iPV Tracker can follow the sun from dusk till dawn due to its ability to rotate at a wider angle.”
To further explain the advantages of iPV Tracker, Luo cited BIG SUN’s involvement in a TBEA’s demonstration project in Xinjiang. In this project, iPV Tracker not only vastly surpassed fixed systems in generation capability but also produced 5~10% more electricity than other solar trackers because of their superior rotating ability. They also had a zero-percent failure rate record.
Additional data further revealed that iPV Tracker can deliver up to 1,359 kWh per year in regions around 45° north or south latitude, representing a 65% increase over fixed systems. In latitudes of 60° or greater, north or south, a system with iPV Tracker can supply at least double the amount of power compared with fixed counterparts.
Luo believes that solar trackers will prevail over fixed-tilt mounting solutions since the former provide stable power generation throughout daytime. To achieve maximum efficiency from solar trackers, he recommends power plant owners to acquire a remote monitoring and management system such as BIG SUN’s iPVita.
A PV power plant that continuously generates solar electricity throughout the entire daytime period means there is a stable feeding of current into the power grid, resulting in higher power generation volume and greater profit. Having such an advantage will become very crucial to power plant owners in China and Japan. Luo pointed out that in the greater western region of China, utility companies ration PV electricity due to transmission bottleneck in the grid. Likewise, Japan has introduced a measure that reduces the amount of tradable electricity for each PV plant by 360 hours per year. The policies of both countries intend to prevent their grids from receiving too much electricity from PV plants during their peak generation hours. However, these policies’ impacts on a PV system’s IRR can be enormous.
Hence, a solar tracker that work during the entire daytime period and in all seasons can guarantee stability in the generation of tradable electricity and IRR. Even though iPV Tracker can cost 8~15% higher than one with a conventional fixed-tilt mounting, the former can be tens of times more efficient than the latter due to its dependability.
The past and future of PV power plants
One demonstration project after another, iPV Tracker continues to expand its global presence, from its native land Taiwan to major solar markets such as Europe, the U.S., Japan and China. With patents in 40 plus countries, iPV Tracker is regarded internationally as one of most competitive solar tracking systems. Some of BIG SUN’s strategic partners are leading top-tier Chinese PV enterprises, including LONGi, Akcome, Zhonghuan and Trina Solar. Besides China, BIG SUN also has also won contracts in hundreds of megawatts around the world.
Japan continues to be an important market for BIG SUN. In addition to being vulnerable to typhoons and earthquakes like Taiwan, Japan also receives heavy snow during winter. Nonetheless, iPV Tracker systems that are deployed in Japan have not been affected by island’s environmental conditions and continue to run smoothly. Big Sun’s target for Japan this year is to reach 20MW in power plant capacity, and the company’s power plant projects in the country is expected to arrive at 6.2MW by the end of the first quarter. The rising demand for more efficient, high-quality power generation in the maturing Japanese market also presents an opportunity for Big Sun to promote iPV Tracker and iPVita as a package solution.
“The scales of our current PV plant projects are not particularly large, but we care more about their successes,” said Luo. “Each project brought valuable experience that we can use to prepare for our next cases.” BIG SUN currently concentrates on developing large-scale PV power plants. The company’s ultimate ambition, however, is to eventually create a solar energy solution that could constantly deliver power to the grid all day. When it comes to building power plants, BIG SUN has been receiving new projects and accumulating related experiences. As for devising a system that could deliver PV electricity to the grid 24/7, the company is looking towards energy storage technologies.
BIG SUN has already started R&D on energy storage systems for large-scale PV power plants. While Luo is keeping the company’s progress in this area under wraps, he revealed that their solutions are not based on the existing lithium battery technology. As the records of iPV Tracker and iPVita have shown, BIG SUN is a technologically mature company capable of releasing commercially successful and market-ready products. The flourishing global PV sector therefore can expect a truly integrated solution from them in the near future.
For more information about iPVTracker please visit //ipvtracker.com/.