The availability of sunlight varies across different regions within India. This makes solar panels inefficient in areas with inadequate sunlight. The natural shift in the sun’s relative angle with respect to the earth throughout the day reduces the amount of power generated by the solar panels. There are problems of solar radiation flux even in the hottest regions on the earth because of this attribute of solar energy. In order to solve this problem, devices such as solar trackers, which ensure that the maximum intensity of sun rays hit the surface of the panel between sunrise and sunset, may be used.
To address the intermittent nature of solar power generation, integrating solar PV panels with a solar tracker ensures optimal sunlight exposure. This tracking system helps change the direction of a solar panel in order to ensure that it is always aligned with the position of the sun. The direction that a solar panel faces is adjusted by a PV solar tracking system in accordance with the sun’s position in the sky. When the solar panel is kept perpendicular to the sun, more sunlight enters the device, less light is reflected, and more energy is absorbed. Thus, that energy can be converted into electricity. Being such a reactive and efficient solar radiation trapping technology, modern solar trackers are increasingly being deployed across residential and commercial-grade solar panels. These solar trackers are important devices for the efficient functioning of solar PV parks because they can help increase the energy gains of PV systems.
Working mechanism of solar trackers
As briefly outlined by a research paper titled “Solar Tracking System: A Review” published in the International Journal of Sustainable Engineering, a solar tracking system comprises a tracking device, tracking algorithm, control unit, positioning system, driving mechanism, and sensing devices. This tracking algorithm helps in determining the angles used to ascertain the solar tracker’s position. There are mainly two forms of algorithms. First, the astronomical algorithms, which are purely mathematical algorithms based on astronomical references. Second, real-time high intensity algorithms, which look out on light intensity readings in real time. The tracking algorithm is used by the control unit, which also manages the positioning system and driving mechanism. This tracking device is moved by the positioning system to face the sun in accordance with the calculated angles. The positioning system can be either electrical or hydraulic.
The driving mechanism is in charge of moving the tracking device to the position determined by the positioning system. Sensing devices are a collection of sensors and measurements that measure ambient conditions, light intensity and tracker tilt angles with the help of an inclinometer or a combination of limit switches and motor encoder counts.
There are different kinds of solar trackers available in the market that can be classified on the basis of their axis. Typically, there are two types of solar trackers – single-axis and dual-axis. The single-axis type tracks the sun from east to west, rotating on a single point, moving in unison, by panel row or by section. Dual-axis trackers rotate on both the X and Y axes, making panels track the sun directly.
Points of concern
One aspect that many developers are concerned about is that deployment of trackers requires additional maintenance. Many of them are concerned that trackers will incur significant maintenance costs, or frequent failures that can disrupt solar power plant operations. Since trackers do have mobile components, which may require maintenance. But these tracker movements are slow and gradual and they are not subject to quick wear and tear.
Another point of concern is that solar trackers, being complex systems with moving parts, are slightly more expensive than the stationary counterparts. Funding tracking solar PV projects is viewed by financiers as a more complex and highly risky venture. This creates a blockage where there is a lack of innovative financing options for constructing large-scale solar PV parks that could offer larger sums at lower interest rates for longer durations. This makes return on investment (RoI) an important factor to be considered before implementing any technology.
There are also constraints related to lack of necessary infrastructure, skilled labour, and high production costs. India imports most of its solar trackers from countries such as China, Spain and the US. This leads to heavy dependence on imports and increases the project costs posing significant barriers. Further, there are land constraints as solar panel trackers must be spaced apart. Solar PV projects that are deployed with trackers require a larger areas in comparison to plants without trackers. The area is typically around 6-6.5 acres to ensure there is continuous movement to ensure that one panel is tilting and does not block out another panel.
Several factors are used to determine the type of tracker deployed across a solar PV plant like installation size, land, government incentives, local weather conditions, availability of finance amongst others. Furthermore, the RoI is an important factor that is considered before implementing any technology to ascertain if the returns are more in comparison to the costs of installation.
India has a rapidly growing solar tracker market with various popular manufacturers and wholesalers of solar trackers such as Nextracker, Amberroot Systems, Ephysx Technologies, Greenera Energy, Hyquip, Infinite Solar, ERCAM, Arctech Solar, Kaizen Imperial, Milman Thin Film Systems, Nordic (India) Solutions, Parco Engineers and SAG Steel having a presence. Various developments have occurred in the solar tracker space in the recent months. For instance, in February 2022, Trina Tracker launched its smart operations and maintenance (O&M) control solution, Trina Smart Cloud. The solution is designed as a unique intelligent monitor and supervisory control solution that provides intelligent O&M of the PV station. The Smart Cloud lowers the levellised cost of energy by minimising power losses, improving system performance and reducing O&M activities, time and costs. The new control solution centralises its intelligent algorithm to provide a smart O&M tracking comprehensive solution. It enables reliable and accurate operations across a range of weather conditions. It also increases production through preventive diagnosis and O&M suggestions based on extensive and reliable data analysis.
In April 2022, Tata Power Renewable Energy Limited announced that it has completed a 300 MW solar project in Gujarat. The Dholera solar plant deploys a single-axis tracker system. Further, in August 2022, Jash Energy, Arctech’s first manufacturing joint venture in India, made an announcement about its opening in Mundra, Gujarat. The manufacturing base has an annual capacity of 3 GW and allows it to produce all major components for its solar tracker products. The new factory is located on 16 acres in Mundra and is modelled after Arctech’s existing Chinese manufacturing base in terms of both the automatic production line and the manufacturing management system.
Research and Markets published a report in October 2022 titled “Solar Tracker Market Research Report by Technology, Product, Application, Region – Global Forecast to 2027 – Cumulative Impact of COVID-19”. It highlighted that the global solar tracker market size was valued at $6.05 billion in 2021. Also, the market is expected to grow from $6.88 billion in 2022 to $16.73 billion by 2029. This would result in a compound annual growth rate of 13.5 per cent during the forecast period. In addition, an article by S&P Global published in August 2021 titled “Infographic – Solar PV Trackers: Market Overview” highlighted the value of the solar tracker market over the next five years to be $28 billion. In India, solar power generation is becoming increasingly affordable, particularly across sunny locations where it has already become the least expensive source of new power generation. Also, technological advancements such as solar trackers will ensure that solar plants generate optimum energy and increase their efficiency.
Overall, the future of the solar tracker industry seems bright in India. However, it is equally important to ease out financing mechanisms to deploy such cutting-edge technologies to harness clean energy in the country.
By Nikita Choubey