According to global provider of business and technical intelligence IHS, the solar PV tracker market in the US increased over the course of 2015 by 135 percent to reach 5.5 GW. Leading this growth was NEXTracker, based in California, which provides advanced tracking systems for commercial, industrial and utility-scale power systems across the world. The company was founded in 2013 and is based in the San Francisco Bay area with offices in China, India, Latin America, and Australia. Its product range currently includes the NX Horizon tracker and NX Fusion bundle, enabling rows of solar modules to follow the sun during its course across the sky, thereby greatly increasing the amount of solar power projects are able to generate.
But what exactly is a solar tracker?
It’s actually a fairly simple concept. A tracking system follows the sun across the sky, adjusting the orientation of the solar power system accordingly so that it can generate the maximum amount of solar power. Trackers can be attached to solar thermal and concentrated solar power (CSP) systems equipped with parabolic mirrors as well as solar farms equipped with solar panels.
There are different types of trackers, depending on the system they are attached to. Flat panel PV systems use trackers that measure the angle of incidence between the incoming solar radiation and the surface of a solar panel. The effect is to increase the amount of solar power generated by a fixed solar panel system.
In CSP systems, trackers orientate the optics that draw in the direct component of sunlight, which carries about 90 percent of the available solar energy. The remainder of the sunlight is the diffuse light that is seen as the blue sky on a clear day and which increases on cloudy days. Given that the majority of the energy is contained in the direct beam, it figures that solar power systems need to be focused directly on the Sun for as long as possible.
NX Horizon is a single-axis tracker that rotates the rows of solar panels to an angle of up to 120 degrees, thereby increasing energy yield by up to 2 percent. The tracker moves individually, rather than being interlocked like other tracking systems. This means that maintenance vehicles can move through the rows of panels rather than being obstructed by the tracking mechanism. The trackers can easily be powered by one self-powered motor per row and this enables each row to be a lot longer than would otherwise be the case normally. The design also saves on steel, with a 30 percent reduction in the amount of piers being used. It also enables easier cleaning of the panels because there is no drive shaft and this also helps improve vegetation control, as well as enabling faster installation because of the reduced amount of cabling. The company also offers a package called NX Fusion, which includes NX Horizon, a string inverter and top of the range solar modules.
Currently, the company has over 3 GW of global installed capacity. Its tracking systems have the advantage of requiring fewer foundations and assembly points that other tracking systems, which in turn helps to mitigate technical risk and accelerates project construction schedules, as well as minimising site preparation costs. The tracking systems are also positioned with a minimum of 36 inches clearance above the ground, which helps to minimise dirt, flooding, snow and vegetation concerns.
In early 2016, the company expanded its presence in Mexico to provide a specially manufactured tracking system suited to Mexican utility-scale projects. It has also previously worked with SunEdison on projects in Chile and Honduras and was recently awarded FINAME certification in Brazil. This will enable the company to deliver its NX Horizon trackers to the country under particularly attractive financing arrangements, accessing local Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) credit lines and demonstrating compliance with BNDES local content and manufacturing processes. NEXTracker has a growing presence in Brazil, where it is co-located with the Flex manufacturing centre in Sorocaba, São Paulo. Tracker components produced local include the company’s advanced self-powered controller, which is manufactured and tested at Flex.
The growth in tracking systems is increasing all the time, with solar power companies increasingly developing projects in areas with high solar irradiance. That means this company has a great future ahead of it.
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