The primary function of solar will always be to generate energy from the sun. Yet we are seeing impressive advances in how solar interacts with the environment in which it is installed. Evolutions in design approaches and integrating intelligent, connected software is opening up a new era for increasingly valuable solar systems.
Dynamic design can best be described as a method for improving product performance through multidimensional interactions with the environment. While passive systems have no ability to react to the environment, active systems use sensors to trigger an action which improves performance. Dynamic designs go a step further by having multiple types of actions, enabling exponentially richer interactions with the world.
Examples of dynamic design
Consider inverters. Most inverters in the field are active. Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) is used to get the most power out of the solar array. By changing the resistance of the circuit, the inverter finds the optimal setting along the PV modules’ current-voltage (I-V) curve. “Smart” inverters demonstrate an evolution to dynamic design. In addition to maximizing output, they provide grid services such as power fact or control and frequency ride through. Smart inverters enable ISOs to “request” what’s needed in real time. What’s amazing is that most of the new functionality does not require new inverter hardware and is orthogonal to the traditional metrics for measuring an inverter such as efficiency and reliability. Once cast by utilities as a nuisance to grid stability, dynamic systems are changing solar’s value proposition.
How this affects mounting systems
Solar mounting systems are following a similar trajectory. The most widely deployed systems are passive, fixed-tilt designs that are ideal for the harshest, toughest projects and require little attention. Tracker systems are active. Trackers calculate the position of the sun and tilt the modules perpendicular to the incident irradiation to boost output. Over time, tracker manufacturers learned that monitoring the environment, especially the wind, and driving the tracker to a stow position during adverse conditions significantly reduces design loads and therefore cost.
Dynamic design in mounting systems will enable further advances. As an example, SunLink is pioneering Dynamic Stabilization — a method for changing the characteristics of a structure depending on real-time environmental conditions. Beyond simply adjusting tilt, SunLink’s TechTrack Distributed incorporates a new dimension of control over the damping and stiffness of the array, opening a completely new solution space for increasing energy output, maintaining structural integrity and lowering cost.
Furthermore, system integrated monitoring and control systems are an increasingly important part of the value of a mounting system. Incorporating sensor data with advanced analytics has tremendous potential to increase system-level efficiency, including for generation, O&M and future product development.
What do these evolutions mean for solar stakeholders today? Look for systems incorporating dynamic design and intelligent software to improve performance and reduce O&M costs over the long term. For the industry as a whole, focusing on new methods to make projects more valuable assets will ultimately lead to the acceleration of global solar adoption.
As Director of Product Management, Patrick Keelin helps define SunLink’s next generation of products and services benefiting the solar PV industry. His focus includes dynamic tracker design, energy storage solutions and advancing the role EnTech platforms can play in improving R&D, design and long-term solar project economics.
— Solar Builder magazine