A Solar Thermal Plant in Australia

Australia is planning to build a 110 MW solar thermal power plant in Port Augusta for AU $650 million (USD $510 million). The plant will be built by SolarReserve which is a USA based solar developer.  While many Australian experts are hailing the move, I am completely perplexed why the Australian government is building such an expensive plant for a low capacity using a technology which is hardly being used anywhere else in the world – solar thermal technology. The PV technology using silicon solar panels is now so much more cost effective and cheap that it does not make sense to build a plant with solar thermal.

Solar thermal plant

Also, read Another $5 billion solar thermal pipedream in California which will not see the light of the day

Solar PV plants can easily be built at a cost of around $1/watt if not lower, while solar thermal plant being built by SolarReserve is costing around $4.5/watt as per the press reports. This is a huge cost for the Australian taxpayers. The only benefit for the solar thermal plant is that it will provide storage but that can easily be done for solar PV plants by using lithium battery storage which will definitely cost lower than the huge difference between the prices of solar thermal and solar PV technology.

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Solar Thermal Plants Issues

Also, solar thermal plant’s technology is facing concerns with news of plant closures and operational issues. It will take almost three years to build the solar thermal plant while an equivalent solar PV plant can easily be built in six months or so. Besides the technology and operational issues, solar thermal plants also use much more water which is not the case with solar PV plants. The competitiveness of solar PV plants is also much higher with multiple companies working in this space. In case, SolarReserve goes bankrupt which could easily happen given that multiple solar thermal companies have gone bankrupt as the technology has become obsolete, the future of the Australian plant could be in jeopardy.

The company proposing to build a $650 million solar thermal power plant in South Australia suffered an eight-month shutdown of a facility using the same technology in the United States.But the State Government is confident it will not experience problems here.California-based firm SolarReserve will fund and build a solar thermal plant in Port Augusta and supply the State Government with all of its power needs over a 20-year contract.Media reports by multiple news outlets in the US show that a $1 billion facility in the Nevada desert, also owned by SolarReserve, was taken offline last October and only began generating electricity again late last month.

Source: Adelaide Now

Effect of Imposition of ADD on Solar Panel Imports in India

The Indian Solar Industry is witnessing exciting times. After the hullabaloo around GST subsided, it’s now time for Anti-dumping duties. India initiated a probe into Chinese solar panel imports after a petition by the Indian Solar Manufacturers Association (ISMA) to impose ADD (anti-dumping duty) on Chinese solar imports into India.

Indian RE developers are becoming a jittery lot with the government soon to announce a decision on imposing anti dumping duties on imports of solar panels from major Asian countries such as Malaysia, Taiwan, and China. Solar equipment imports from China, Malaysia, and Taiwan have considerably increased over the past years, so much so that over 80% of the Indian solar market is now flooded with these cheap imports. Note ADD has already been imposed on imports of solar glass by the DGAD which means that the government will also impose ADD on solar panel imports from China.

The Indian government did not impose ADD in the past because they wanted to encourage a faster adoption of solar power in the country. However, with intense competition from neighboring countries and continuously falling prices, the Indian domestic solar manufacturers are in red and bleeding. They cannot compete with Chinese imports and many of them are on the verge of closing down.

This means a major setback for the solar energy developers who do not have clauses in their contracts with the solar buyers of an escalation in prices in case ADD is imposed on imports of solar panels. This has already proved to be the bane of owners of large thermal coal plant owners such as the Tatas and Adanis who saw their plants go into huge losses after duties were imposed on exports of coal from Indonesia. Indian developers have bid very aggressively for winning large solar plants and have not taken cognizance of the risks associated.

Solar India

The Indian solar developers are already crying wolf after Chinese solar panel makers have increased the quotes on solar panel prices after prices jumped by almost 10-20% in the last few months due to higher demand in other regions such as USA and China. A jump in raw material prices has also contributed to the price rise. With almost no alternative to the large Chinese solar panel makers, the Indian developers have no option to move their contract somewhere else. These developers say that the Chinese have reneged on their contracts however, they have not gone to courts nor named the suppliers. In case they find the situation very insufferable the developers can easily move their business elsewhere but they know that they won’t get such cheap subsidized panels in other places.

Here is a statement of Fortum India MD about the imposition of tariffs showing how jittery these people have become:

“I can’t build in a duty now in my tariff. So, I don’t want to be unfairly targeted because of that. Clearly, it’s unfair that a developer needs to take a call on the ADD. There has to be a mechanism, by which the developer should be exempted. I would leave that to the authority but my project should not be impacted,” said Aggarwal.

“DGAD (directorate of anti-dumping and allied duties) will decide how much reduction in tariff and its cascading effect helps the country vis-à-vis creation of this ADD. If we want to do 100 Gw, we have to add 20 Gw every year. We don’t have the manufacturing capacity to do that. Out of a capacity of 5 Gw, 1 Gw is cells, so the balance anyway comes from outside. Whether that Rs 1 tariff increase because of ADD creates ancillary, manpower and cascading effect versus how much advantage, if you were to start producing here, that is to be evaluated,” said Aggarwal.

Source: Business Standard

What is a Solar Tracker

A Solar Tracker is a mechanical device which follows the movement of the sun as it rotates from the east to the west every day. Solar Trackers are used to keep solar panels oriented directly towards the sun, as it moves through the sky. The angle of rotation is very important as the relative position of sun changes daily from east to west. The angle of rotation varies from -60 degrees to +60 degrees (East-West direction), but for tropical countries like India, a single axis movement of -45 degrees to +45 degrees is enough for extracting the maximum gain. These days solar trackers are becoming increasingly important and major solar panel manufacturers like First Solar and Trina Solar are selling solar trackers as well. Solar trackers were mostly used in the U.S. market, but given its economic benefits, developers in India and China have also increasingly started using these trackers for their projects.

solar-tracker

Components of a Solar Tracker 

a) Tracker Mount – is the skeletal structure holding the panel in proper inclined position

b) Driver – used to control the rotation of the motor shaft based on the load

c) Sensors – detect relevant parameters induced by the sun and yields output

d) Motor – controls the movement of the tracker

e) Algorithm – used to calculate sun’s position from algorithms using the time, date and geographical location.

Also, read Impact of GST on Renewable Energy Sector in India

History and Development of Solar Trackers

During the early 2000s, there was much debate about whether tracker technology or fixed-tilt option was better for utilities. Developers were skeptical of shifting to a new technology largely on concerns of maintenance. However, tracker technology continued to develop as a viable alternative to fixed-tilt for utility-scale solar plants.

Various tracker components like motors, controllers, and sensors became smaller and smaller. The tracking systems were also optimized to reduce component requirements. Gears became smaller and efficient; sensors became more compact, using SCADA and monitoring technology. The whole setup became getting sleeker, simpler to install without the requirement of many specialized tools.

Solar trackers have continually evolved to become better and more efficient. From single axis to dual axis trackers, and from passive to active trackers, trackers today are equipped with smart features that guarantee better output. In India itself, solar trackers have features like weather proof mechanism, multimode intelligent operations, link tube with articulated joints, dust avoidance and rain mode. Some recent innovations also include simplified designs that have fewer motor parts and self-calibration. Through back tracking feature, solar trackers can also keep inter-row shading under check. These trackers are also capable of self-cleaning of the modules and hence do not require any routine maintenance.

Array Technologies CEO Ron Corio said. “The best possible outcome for solar is that you install a system and you don’t have to do much with it — it just produces power for 30 years.”

Types of Solar Tracker

There are two different drivers that dictate the motion of the trackers: passive and active.

I) Passive trackers – Depend entirely on the sun’s heat for the movement of the tracker using a hydraulic mechanism. A low boiling point compressed gas fluid is used that drives to one side or the other causing the tracker to move in response to an imbalance. They do not consume any power.

II) Active trackers – Uses a controller to monitor the sun’s movement in order to direct motors that move the trackers. Electrical circuits in the form of photo sensors are used. Active trackers thus use power.

Active trackers are more precise than passive trackers, hence more widely used where accuracy is required, for instance when concentrating solar collectors are used. Passive trackers are more widely used in normal solar PV applications.

The two basic categories of trackers are single axis and dual axis.

1. Single Axis Tracker:

These trackers have one degree of freedom that acts as an axis of rotation and they can have either a horizontal or vertical axis. The axis of rotation of single axis tracker is typically aligned along a true North meridian. They can be aligned in any cardinal direction with advanced tracking algorithms.

There are several implementations of single axis trackers:

i) Horizontal single axis tracker (HSAT)

ii) Horizontal single axis tracker with tilted modules (HTSAT)

iii) Vertical single axis tracker (VSAT)

iv) Tilted single axis trackers (TSAT)

v) Polar aligned single axis trackers (PSAT)

2. Dual Axis Tracker:

These trackers have two degrees of freedom that act as axes of rotation and these axes are typically normal to one another. These trackers have both horizontal and vertical axis and can move along the sun’s apparent motion.

The common implementations of dual axis trackers are:

i) Tip-tilt dual axis tracker (TTDAT)

ii) Azimuth-altitude dual axis tracker (AADAT)

Dual axis trackers are more complex, require additional land, more O&M and lower reliability as compared to single axis trackers, although power generation efficiency is higher.

Where Can Solar Trackers be used

Solar Trackers are mostly used in ground mounted solar farms of capacity more than 1 MW. It is difficult to use solar trackers on residential rooftop installations. The combination of energy improvement, lower product cost and lower installation complexity results in compelling economics in larger deployments. Solar Trackers are almost universally used in case of solar thermal technology because they make use of optics to generate high amounts of heat.

Advantages of Solar Tracker

The main reason to use a solar tracker is to produce more power by reducing the cost of energy. Using Solar Trackers increases the amount of solar energy which is received by the solar energy collector (solar panels) and improves the energy output. Solar Trackers can increase the output of solar panels by 15%-40%, which improves the overall economics of the solar panel project. A tracking system produces more power during peak demand hours compared to fixed mounted systems.

Trackers make immense economic sense and typically there is a payback of fewer than 3.5 years on tracker investment and an overall increase in the IRR of the project. They also lead to the lowest levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) in solar projects. The increase in output easily compensates for the higher costs associated with solar trackers. Solar Trackers are very effective in places where solar insolation and efficiency of solar panels being used is high.

India Solar Tracker Market

The costs have come down drastically over the years due to an improvement in technology and growing competition. It is estimated that almost 50% of the overall tracker market will be using trackers by 2022 which means almost 35-50 GW of solar trackers will be required annually by 2022. The overall market for solar trackers should grow to around $5-7 billion then, up from just $1 billion now.

Solar Tracker

Improvement in price has been mainly due to better technology and bigger scale. Steel has become the biggest cost component accounting for 70% of the cost of trackers. Steel prices should remain subdued given the huge structural overcapacity globally. China’s huge amount of idle capacity will keep steel prices capped and solar tracker costs in check. Just like Chinese solar panels, Chinese Solar Trackers are also much cheaper than that available locally. However, the operational history for most pure play Chinese tracker companies is not too long.

India’s solar market is 5GW of which only 20% is currently catered by trackers. This means the country still has a huge potential. Today India has 1GW of solar power plants equipped with trackers compared to none two years ago. India is expected to add about 3-4GW of single axis tracker installations per year as a result of its ambitious solar target of installing 100GW of solar by 2022. It is expected that more than 50% of the plants being installed after 2016 will use trackers in India. Compare this to the global markets, where 85% of the solar systems already use trackers.

Major Players in The Indian Solar Tracker Market

Most of the tracker manufacturers have been bought by the large U.S. solar developers like First Solar and SunPower, who have been integrating tracker options into their product offerings.

Solar trackers in India have seen a number of players entering the market. Some of the notable ones include Mahindra, Vikram and Waaree Solar. These firms are also large solar panel makers or EPC/developers which mean that they will use in-house products for their installations. Global players such as First Solar and NexTracker are also present in India and have supplied hundreds of megawatts of products to different solar projects across the country.

Major Indian solar tracker players are Mahindra and start-ups like Scorpius Trackers and SmartTrak Solar.

1. Scorpius Tracker is a Pune based startup backed by three angel investors who have an in-depth knowledge in the renewable energy sector. The company was incorporated in 2012 and grew revenues from INR 2.5 crore in 2014-15 to INR 17 crore in 2015-16. The company has installed over 300 trackers and structure designs for solar pumping, roof top, and other distributed system applications. This three-year-old company has signed MoUs worth 1,250MW and has firm orders for 500MW. Scorpius Tracker manufactures single axis trackers between 100 kW to 500 kW. A single tracker block is generally 500 kW. WiFi enabled inter-tracker controller and Wind station communication system are also available.

2.SmartTrak Solar manufactures both single and dual axis trackers, enhancing energy level by 25-35% and also provides direct and easy access to monitoring and control. SmartTrak also provides tracker control system which allows online monitoring and control and configuration of the tracking system at client’s convenience.

3. Mahindra is one of the largest EPC players in India. The company through its portfolio company Mahindra Susten manufactures MSAT100, an indigenously designed single axis tracker which is significantly gaining traction in the Indian market at affordable prices. The company has so far supplied over 500 trackers and installed more than 10MW trackers in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. About 24% increase in the generation has been observed at installed sites.

4. Vikram Solar is a prominent solar panel manufacturer in India. The company also has a presence in the EPC market and recently entered the solar tracker market in a big way. The company launched HELITRAC which is an advanced solar tracker with intelligent operations and weather proof mechanism. The product is also easy to install.

5. Relyon Solar is India’s leading solar company established in 2010 and headquartered in Pune. The company manufactures single axis trackers which are proved to deliver average 20% more sunshine every day. The company claims its trackers to be the most flexible tracking solution with large tilt angle and stowage mode for the wind. They are more accurate with smart algorithm tracking. These trackers are maintenance free and have a cleaning mode for routine cleaning.

6. Ganges Internationale Pvt Ltd. is a major module mounting structure provider in India. Last year the company announced the launch of solar trackers in India in collaboration with American solar solutions provider SunLink Corporation. The tracking system will be an innovative world-class tested product in single axis tracking technology that is expected to increase energy generation by 15-20%.

7. NexTracker is the world’s largest solar tracker company and also has a large presence in India. The company has been taken over by one of the largest electrical and electronic OEMs Flextronics. NEXTracker designs and manufactures one of the world’s most advanced single-axis photovoltaic trackers that orient PV panels to maximize energy output. Other foreign tracker companies having a huge presence in India are Sun Track; and Power Way, Arch Tech and Patriot Solar of China.

While Array Technologies and NexTracker are still the biggest firms in this market globally, other players have started to enter making the field much more competitive. The top 5 international companies making solar trackers are Array Technologies, SunPower, First Solar, Nextracker and Soitec.

Price of Solar Trackers – India

Mounting structures typically account for 7% of the overall capital cost of solar PV power projects, as per the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission. The selection of tracker type is dependent on many factors including installation size, electric rates, government incentives, land constraints, latitude and local weather. Cost plays a major role in deciding the solar components, especially in India.

Trackers typically add upfront costs of 5%-10% on large utility-scale projects. The cost for solar trackers is ~INR 25-40 lakhs/ MW for single axis trackers in India. Dual axis trackers are more expensive than single axis trackers.

The tracking system should be designed in a way to be able to withstand years of harsh weather conditions. Single axis trackers have evolved a lot to what they are today but there is still room for improvement. For example, most of these trackers are installed with a limit switch which does not function in case of bad weather conditions and is also prone to improper installation and operating errors. At many locations, these switches are now replaced with mechanical hard-stops which overcome all these limitations and thus improve efficiency. But there are still small hurdles to a successful tracker installation. Challenges exist in the form of bad weather or windy conditions, maintenance, cleaning and the overall efficient operation of the whole system. Innovations so far have been fruitful and have addressed the concerns, but with a booming solar market in India, it will be interesting to see how the tracker market evolves over the next one or two decades.

Conclusion

Single-axis trackers are more beneficial compared to double axis trackers in the Indian scenario. India has set up an ambitious target of installing 100 GW of solar power by 2022. Both the market size and the market share of trackers is poised to increase at a rapid pace in India. Trackers will more than makeup for their modest increase in upfront costs over the lifetime of the project. In the past developers were of the belief that trackers will significantly add up to maintenance costs which were a big challenge for installing trackers. However, that perception is quickly changing with mass adoption and increased the overall efficiency of projects when using solar trackers.

India has 100% rural electrification plan which will increase the country’s overall demand for energy. Utility-scale solar is here to stay in India for long and continued improvement in performance and cost of all major components including modules, trackers and inverters is going to make it a competitive source of electricity going forward.

Note: The article is written by me and was originally published in a leading renewable energy magazine in India, SmartEnergy

Situation of Falling Solar Prices in India

Solar energy prices have fallen by more than half in India over the last 2 years causing a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Think you had bought a house for INR 1 crore and after 2 years it falls in value by 50%. This is similar to what is happening across the Indian electricity sector. In 2015, a large number of Indian state utility buyers had signed contracts between INR 6-8/kWh which were based on the equipment prices and interest rates at that point of time. Today the price has come down almost INR 3/kWh. The buyers are left saddled with paying very high price for solar energy, which is almost double of what the price is right now!

What is even more problematic for these buyers is that they will have to pay higher prices for 12-25 years, depending on the duration of the PPA. The same case had happened in Gujarat a couple of years ago and the utility had gone to the regulator to lower the prices. However, the courts refused to change the sanctity of the contract and the prices prevailed.

Also, read India Has The Cheapest Solar System Prices In The World, Even 20% Below China

Uttar Pradesh which is the largest state in India is trying to renegotiate the PPA prices to a lower value by talking to the winners of the bids  (Rays, Essel Group and others). The UP power sector is undergoing a major change with the new government lowering the price of power by trying to get out of high priced PPAs. It has already set in motion to cancel the PPA for a 90 MW power project that had a price of more than INR 7/kWh and was signed due to emergency needs.

The solar power developers are crying hoarse as they would have bid for these power projects using certain assumptions and values at that point of time. Also, it is incorrect for a utility to change the contract as that would not allow the developer to raise prices in case he is running a loss. The Adani and Tata massive thermal power plants are running at huge losses, but the courts have refused to allow them to increase prices as the contract does not change the price.

Solar price fall

Source: ET

It remains to be seen whether the developers will go to courts or get their arm twisted by the state government into lowering their prices and profits.

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Plight of Indian Discoms

Solar prices have been crashing at an astounding rate with each new tender leading to a new lower solar price. Last year the price of INR 5/kWh was considered as a crazy irrational price by Sky Power which would have resulted in a stranded asset. Move a year forward and even the price of INR 2.44/kWh which was bid for a recent solar utility project in the desert state of Rajasthan seems viable, though still a bit risky. The buyers of power discoms are all in a tizzy right now. If a utility had waited for a year, it would have seen its buying price cut in half leading to savings for hundreds of crores of rupees over the PPA life of 25 years which is the norm for the power industry.

First Solar Solar Panels

Even the recent REWA tender where the levelized price of INR 3.3/kWh was discovered seems exceptionally high as compared to the INR 2.44/kWh prices. Falling solar equipment prices and low interest rates have been the two main factors behind this fall in price.

Distribution utilities in India are now facing a serious case of buyer’s remorse as they worry that they have paid too much for the power bought earlier. Now they are rethinking their entire buying process with most of the utilities completely halting signing of new PPAs, as they clarify their new process. Discoms are mulling that they scrap the 25-year power purchase agreement with power sellers in which a fixed price of power is contracted over the course of the asset life. This will be done in order to ensure that the power contracts do not become a huge burden on the discoms. Already some of the Gujarat utilities which contracted PPAs with solar power plans at INR 15/kWh in 2012 are facing serious financial troubles. They have gone to court to nullify these PPAs but have been thrown out as they are legally binding contracts.

Power sellers, on the other hand, will have to think how they will manage the short-term PPAs as they cannot sustain the business on just one year visibility. They would need to consider the whole life of the asset which is around 30 years. With solar equipment prices falling, their plants may become unviable in 3-4 years which could lead to huge losses. They would only invest if they managed to get at least the assurance of capital returns of their assets.

In another setback for power plants languishing without long-term buyers, the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government has cancelled the bids conducted in 2016 to procure 3,800 MW of power from independent power producers. The decision, according to sources, was taken after the central power ministry and Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation (UPPCL) observed that adequate electricity will be available in the state between FY18 and FY22.

About 33,000 MW of thermal power plants, with an approximate investment of about Rs 2 lakh crore, are left stranded across the country due to the lack of PPAs. The low tariffs discovered in the Uttar Pradesh reverse auction were the result of aggressive bidding by power companies, experts said.

Source: Financial Express

Solar Prices Keep Falling in India

India has done it yet again! In the latest bid for building a 500MW in Rajasthan’s Bhadla solar park, Acme Solar Holdings Pvt. Ltd (for 200MW) and SBG Cleantech Ltd (for 300MW) placed winning bids of INR 2.44/ kWh and INR 2.44/kWh respectively. The other close bids were priced at INR 2.46 per kWh and INR 2.47 per kWh by Hero Solar Energy and ReNew Solar Power respectively. In all, there were 24 bids for the 500MW capacity build-up.

This comes after Phelan Energy and Avaada Power quoted prices as low as INR 2.62/ kWh in a bid for Adani Power’s 250MW solar plant in also Bhadla solar park. The continuously falling solar prices have made it possible to generate electricity from solar energy at 18% lower prices than the average price for electricity generated by coal-fired plants.  It is now cheaper to construct a solar plant than constructing a coal plant in India.

India is set to become the third biggest solar market in the world in 2017 with an increase of 76% in capacity. Prices of solar components like inverters and modules have fallen by more than 25% in the last year itself. Indian solar prices have fallen by more than 12% in the last three months itself.

solar-india-village2

Read List of 8 Largest Solar Farms Around the World

Not only India but many parts of the world are a part of the renewable energy revolution. Recently Origin and Goldwind set a new low for Australian wind prices at about $55/MWh for the 530MW Stockyard Hill wind project in Victoria.

India energy minister Piyush Goyal predicts thermal coal imports will fall to zero within the next few years. Now India’s ambitious renewable energy target by 2022 does not seem too far. For a 100% rural electrification, using renewable sources of energy looks highly likely and falling prices in this regard should go a long way in boosting the adoption.

India which was a coal-dependent nation just a few years ago has seamlessly been transforming into a renewable-focused country. This should be an inspiration to small and developing nations. Even though there is a concern about the competitiveness of solar plants bid at such lower prices, this has not stopped the developers from being aggressive. Currently, India generates more than 60% of its total electricity from coal and gas-fuelled plants, while only about 18% is from renewable energy sources. However, this percentage is set to change soon.