Tapping Solar

Growing market for tracking solutions in India

Solar power generation has been rapidly increasing in India owing to technological advancements in the segments leading to innovative methods and procedures. Apart from setting up new solar plants with a cumulative capacity of over 10 GW, the industry is focusing on increasing the generation from existing ones. For this purpose, solar trackers have emerged as a preferred option to increase the generation by allowing the axis of the module to follow the movement of the sun. Thus, solar tracking technology ensures that the modules receive optimum solar irradiation, resulting in consistent generation throughout the day. Solar installations can be fitted with single- or double-axis trackers depending on the desired output, the location of the plant, and the finances and land available.

Solar trackers have been introduced in the global as well as Indian markets. While most countries have embraced tracking solutions, their adoption in India still lags behind though there is immense potential in the country. The rapid installation of solar capacity to achieve the 100 GW target by 2022 will provide a strong platform for their adoption. According to IHS, by 2019-20, the global market for solar trackers is expected to grow by 120 per cent, reaching about $2 billion. This growth is likely to be concentrated in China, India, the Middle East and the North African region.

With the competitive bidding regime becoming prevalent in the Indian solar segment, tariffs have spiralled downward, falling below Rs 5 per unit, thus affecting profits for developers. In order to increase their revenues, project developers are employing tracking solutions that ensure higher output. While single-axis solar trackers are able to increase solar power generation by up to 25 per cent, dual-axis trackers can increase it by up to 35 per cent. This translates into lower generation cost per unit and increased return on investment by at least 3-5 per cent. As per industry estimates, India is expected to install 3-4 GW of single-axis trackers over the next three to four years to meet its ambitious solar targets.

Cost-benefit

The cost of deploying tracker solutions adds 15-20 per cent to the capital expenditure of the solar power plant. While single-axis trackers cost Rs 7 million- Rs 8 million per MW, dual-axis trackers add Rs 10 million-Rs 12 million to the project cost. Also, tracking solutions require at least 2 to 3 acres more of land than fixed-tilt projects. Moreover, operations and maintenance of trackers entails an additional expenditure of Rs 400,000 per MW.

The return on investment is estimated at 2-3 per cent for projects with single-axis trackers, and 5-7 per cent for dual-axis trackers, translating into returns of 14-15 per cent and 17-20 per cent respectively, as against 12-13 per cent offered by fixed-tilt projects. Moreover, projects fitted with tracker technologies generate 20 per cent more energy. While the average generation for fixed-tilt projects is about 1.57 MUs, it increases to 1.88 MUs for tracker-based projects.

The increase in generation and the success of tracker technology is dependent on several factors. For instance, trackers perform better when they are closer to the equator and are not as effective as the latitude of the location increases. In states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, solar tracker solutions would perform better than those installed in Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Global scenario

Globally, tracker technology is at the growth stage and will reach maturity over the next few years. North America and Europe are currently the largest markets for tracking systems while China and India are expected to witness higher adoption of the technology with the increase in solar capacity by 2021-22. Therefore, Asia-Pacific is likely to become the dominant market for solar trackers, surpassing Europe. Growth is also expected to be high in Latin American countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Chile as well as North African countries like Egypt.

As per industry estimates, the cumulative capacity of projects with solar trackers will increase by 7.5 GW to reach 12.6 GW. This is further likely to increase to 37.7 GW by 2021. At present, the solar tracker market is somewhat fragmented, with 40 per cent market share held by the top five tracking solution providers, Array Technologies, SunPower, First Solar, NexTracker and Soitec.

Single-axis trackers continue to dominate the market along with utility-scale installations. Developers are inclined to opt for single-axis systems as the space and finance required is less than that for dual-axis systems. Also, the uptake of trackers in concentrating solar power projects is higher than that in solar PV projects as the need to optimally capture solar radiation is more pronounced in the former.

Indian scenario

Given that the country is witnessing a solar revolution, developers are more likely to prefer cheaper, simpler and popular fixed-mounted solar plants. The installed capacity is concentrated in solar-rich states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan, most of which has been developed only in the past two or three years, therefore the adoption of tracking solutions in the country is still low. Also, the track record of seasonal tilt solutions in the country has not been very encouraging. Only 4-5 per cent increase was seen in the monthly generation at the 60 MW Charanka Solar Park that employs this technology.

The Indian solar tracker market is highly concentrated, with three major companies holding more than 50 per cent of the share. These are domestic manufacturers Scorpius and SmartTrak and US-based NexTracker. More companies are venturing into this space with the increase in adoption, however, domestic manufacturing remains low. With greater demand and increase in manufacturing, the prices of solar trackers are expected to reduce leading to higher adoption.

Scorpius Trackers has installed over 50 MW of plants with tracker technology across the country. As a result, the plants in Telangana have recorded a 17.5 per cent rise in power generation, while those in Karnataka have recorded a 19 per cent increase. Rajasthan and Punjab have also recorded gains of 18 and 17 per cent respectively. The company’s tracking solutions have been used effectively, especially in the southern part of the country. Further, the company has signed agreements for 1.25 GW of solar trackers, indicating a rise in their uptake. In November 2016, NexTracker commissioned the country’s largest solar tracker-based project with 105 MW of capacity in Bathinda, Punjab, at a cost of Rs 64 billion.

Outlook

Although the adoption of the technology was initially low, these solutions are now being preferred in new projects as developers are becoming increasingly confident of their benefits. The projects that have installed solar trackers in the past few years are now generating favourable results.

The cost factor, however, remains a strong deterrent, particularly in the Indian market where developers struggle to raise finances for projects. Land availability also continues to be an issue for this technology that requires more land as compared to fixed-tilt projects.

Reduction in prices, increased domestic manufacturing and the involvement of Indian players in the solar tracker space will encourage its adoption. The central and state governments also need to extend their support, by offering incentives, to increase the deployment of solar trackers and hence the generation from existing and upcoming plants.

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