Podcast: How NEXTracker ‘decapitated the duck’ with its new solar-plus-storage tracker design

solar builder buzz NEXTracker photo

Being the No. 1 tracker worldwide according to GTM Research, I will assume you’ve heard of NEXTracker and its decentralized tracker design by now. What you may not know about is the company’s giant leap into the storage arena with two solutions — NX Drive, a standardized battery enclosure system for generation-plus-storage or stand-alone storage applications, and NX Flow, a modular, integrated solution designed for long duration solar-plus-storage applications.

NX Flow in particular intrigued us – a solution so unique the company worked on and created a new UL standard to test for and prove what it does (more on that below). We stopped by the Fremont, Calif., offices to chat with Chief Technology Officer Alex Au about the concept, maximizing MWh over pure MW, decapitating the duck curve and the effect tariffs might have on all of this.

Be sure to download the full podcast interview below (and subscribe!), but here are three big takeaways.

1. The NEXTracker NX Flow is a 30-kW tracker row with a battery coupled just to that row, making it a modular power plant that achieves a renewable base load. There are two keys to its value proposition. One is the battery.

Au: “Two years ago we started an RFP called ‘Decapitate the Duck’ specifically to address the storage market. We reviewed north of 40 technologies. We had an aggressive demand profile, tested units and agreed to move forward with the Avalon battery — a vanadium flow battery. As of Christmas last year, we were able to pass the point of 10 years worth of cycles. Approximately 1.25 cycles per day, 100 percent depth of discharge. We haven’t been able to detect any degradation. With other batteries there are maintenance cycles and equalization time, but we haven’t had to do any of that either.”

“The Avalon product mates perfectly with one of our 30-kW rows; it is a 6,000 lb unit, can ship completely wet and has actually gone through a burn-in cycle in the factory. That testing and burn-in period means you literally just plug in the DC wires for the modules and then the AC grid. Takes less than an hour and 15 mins to do the full installation with piers and everything.”

2. The second key is the work done with PG&E and UL to create a testing standard that proves the system is only using the grid to power a few electrical components and not charging the battery or sending electrons back into the grid.

Au: “The NEM program, the (self-generation incentive program) SGIP and ITC, have a common theme: If you’re going to participate, you cannot take the energy from the grid and sell it back. You have to have 75 to 100 percent of the power generated from a renewable energy source. To do that, you need meters to show how much of the PV is being produced, and how much is being put on the grid.

“That’s not an integrated solution. You literally have to split everything out and have to put a meter there for added cost. And then to govern that, there is additional labor and time required. We wanted to do everything natively. We took our Self-Powered Controller and put it inside the battery, so we’re talking to the battery and to the inverter, which is on our native SCADA platform.

“Two weeks ago the utilities and PUC came in and said we could start moving forward with this. This is a true milestone for us. We said we will take on the extra burden of creating a power plant – a renewable base load – and we’re going to get it approved by utilities and we’re moving forward with that. We’ve essentially changed the industry.”

3. In the end, NX Drive isn’t necessarily generating more power, but smoothing out production much better over time. But, because of the modularity and the system’s tracking algorithms and data analytic capabilities, more production is possible too.

Au: “You no longer have clipping loss. A lot of guys design DC to AC ratios north of one. In our case, any time you go north of one, it gets stored and could be used in the later part of the day. That’s why we called our RFP ‘Decapitate the Duck’ because the energy is stored and shifted to later times when the head of the duck [curve] would pop up.

“We can go out and apply for an SGIP type program and can put more than 1 MW of PV panels out there because a flow battery actually falls into the fuel cell category. All we care about is nameplate rating. So we have a UL listed inverter with guts that are 30 kW but de-rated to 15 kW. So, instead of 40 tracker rows, we have 60 tracker rows and take a lot more of the energy produced in the day, store it, and then release it later in the day when the sun sets.”

Be sure to listen to the full interview for more on the concept of TrueCapture, what NEXTracker is doing with its advanced analytics and more on the complicated but game-changing proposition of including storage at the point of generation.

— Solar Builder magazine

Global solar tracker shipments up 32 percent, another 30 percent increase expected

Solar trackers continue to take more market share in large-scale PV design, and the #TrumpTariffs may even encourage more tracker deployment, in order for more conservative investors who traditionally installed fixed-tilt under pre-tariff pricing look to boost long-term project value. Even before accounting for that possibility, according to new data from GTM Research, global solar tracker shipments hit a record 14.5 gigawatts in 2017. This represents growth of 32 percent year-over-year.

The data comes from GTM Research’s new report, Global Solar PV Tracker Market Shares and Shipments 2018.
The report notes that NEXTracker maintained its spot at the top of the shipment rankings, accounting for a third of all solar PV trackers sold worldwide in 2017. Array Technologies ranked second, and Soltec third. For the first time, Latin America was the largest market for solar trackers, followed closely by the United States.

GTM solar trackers

“Mexico and Brazil are two of the fastest growing solar markets in the world, each accounting for over 1.5 gigawatts of tracker shipments in 2017, notes Scott Moskowitz, senior analyst at GTM Research and author of the study. “The U.S. utility-scale market was significantly stunted last year due to tariff uncertainty, so it took a backseat to Latin America.”

GTM Research solar tracker shipments

In spite of strong growth, GTM expects to see continued consolidation in the industry. The report notes that vendor margins continue to compress as the market grows, making profitable growth a significant challenge. There has already been one significant acquisition in 2018, with steel giant ArcelorMittal acquiring Exosun out of French bankruptcy court in January.

However, analysts at GTM Research remain optimistic. “Fundamentals in the global utility-scale solar industry are excellent, and trackers are an obvious choice in most developing solar markets,” said Moskowitz. “We expect 30 percent growth in 2018, with shipments approaching 20 gigawatts.”

— Solar Builder magazine

NEXTracker’s NX Drive storage solution selected for project in Ontario

Leclanché, an Ontario, Canada-based global integrator of energy storage, has selected NEXTracker to supply its NX Drive energy storage system (ESS) for battery solutions the company is installing at commercial and industrial businesses in Ontario, Canada. NX Drive is a standardized battery enclosure system for generation-plus-storage and stand-alone storage applications. In this installation, NX Drive ESS will be utilized as a stand-alone system, incorporating a storage inverter and entire ESS within the enclosure to help power several small businesses in metropolitan Toronto. Selected for its long-term value, intelligent design and quality components, each ESS unit has a capacity of approximately two MWh.

“NEXTracker’s NX Drive ESS technology exceeded our safety and aesthetic design requirements while reducing the required footprint,” said Thom Reddington, Leclanché Sr. VP North America. “They were able to design the solution to incorporate the entire PCS (power control system) which includes not just a battery in the container, but also a fully integrated inverter and entire ESS system.”

“By partnering with Leclanché on this innovative program, we can help commercial and industrial customers minimize their energy demand costs with our NX Drive ESS,” said Dan Shugar, NEXTracker CEO. “With the Canadian power supply relying more on renewable but intermittent power sources, NX Drive takes the pain out of these grid management challenges by providing an integrated and reliable storage system.”

NX Drive provides a flexible, pre-engineered balance-of-system (BOS) solution for virtually any generation-plus-storage or stand-alone storage application. NX Drive consists of a standard ISO form-factor enclosure with pre-engineered and integrated electrical, mechanical and thermal management safety features. Customers can also upgrade battery modules as technology evolves, and integrate photovoltaic and/or storage inverters, depending on design preference. Using advanced, patent-pending technologies to ensure safe operation and optimized performance, the NX Drive system infrastructure supports standard customer-supplied or NEXTracker-sourced Tier 1 lithium-ion batteries.

These Leclanché energy storage projects support the larger trend in Ontario towards clean, reliable energy generation and grid resiliency. In 2010, Ontario launched the Long-Term Energy Plan which has phased out coal-fired electricity generation and built a clean system that is more than 90% free of greenhouse gas emissions. Now the Energy Plan is focused on ensuring there is a robust supply of electricity to power homes and businesses across Ontario by increasing the renewable mix on the grid using energy storage applications.

— Solar Builder magazine

NEXTracker working on a giant 325 MW solar tracker project in Egypt

solar tracker NEXTracker egypt

Global solar EPC company Sterling and Wilson selected NEXTracker to supply 325 megawatts (5 blocks of 65 MW each) of its smart solar trackers to its massive project within the Benban solar park in Aswan, Egypt. The Benban solar park occupies 37-square-kilometers and, when completed in 2019, will host a total capacity of more than 1.6 gigawatts (GW), making it the largest planned solar installation in the world.

Egypt is increasingly turning to the sun for power as solar has become competitive with traditional generation. The World Bank reports that Egypt relied on fossil fuels for 96 percent of its total energy consumption in 2014. Looking forward, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports, “Egypt plans to generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2022.”

“We’re thrilled that Sterling and Wilson chose NEXTracker to supply our trackers for what’s predicted to be the largest solar facility in the world,” said Dan Shugar, founder and CEO at NEXTracker. “We’ve developed a successful partnership with Sterling and Wilson, having deployed over 400 MW of trackers for their projects in India, and are delighted to be extending that partnership to North Africa. It’s very gratifying to be a part of Egypt’s investment in the solar industry and the country’s movement towards a cleaner and brighter future.”

Four trends leading ground-mounted solar in 2018 from IHS Markit

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Get to know NEXTracker’s Energy Storage Solutions offering

NEXTracker

Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts the global energy storage market will “double six times” by 2030, growing from less than 5 gigawatt-hours in 2016 to more than 300 gigawatt-hours. An estimated $103 billion will be invested in energy storage over that time period. All of those numbers mean a big opportunity for solar, which is why NEXTracker is broadening its approach to large-scale PV deployment by adding an Energy Storage Solutions portfolio of products alongside its decentralized tracker system.

The storage solutions include NX Drive, a standardized battery enclosure system for generation-plus-storage or stand-alone storage applications, and NX Flow, a modular, integrated solution designed for long duration solar-plus-storage applications. Each is designed to maximize long-term value and offer the lowest levelized cost of storage (LCOS) for a wide variety of applications, such as peak smoothing, bulk load shifting and demand charge reduction.

Inside NX Drive

NX Drive provides a flexible, pre-engineered balance-of-system (BOS) solution for virtually any generation-plus-storage or stand-alone storage application. NX Drive consists of a standard ISO form factor enclosure with pre-engineered and integrated electrical, mechanical, and thermal management features. Customers can also upgrade battery modules as technology continues to evolve and integrate PV and/or storage inverters depending on design preference. Using advanced, patent-pending technologies to ensure safe operation and optimized performance, the container delivers a standardized system infrastructure for customer-supplied or NEXTracker-procured Tier 1 lithium-ion batteries.

Inside NX Flow

NX Flow’s complete storage solution (formerly known as NX Fusion Plus) integrates battery, inverter, solar tracker and software technologies to improve return on investment for owners of solar power plants. At the core of the system lies an advanced vanadium flow battery (VFB), which is DC-coupled with the photovoltaic (PV) array for high round-trip efficiency. With NX Flow, the battery charges directly off the array, enabling the battery to capture “clipped” energy up to its storage capacity limit. Energy that has been lost to clipping can now be captured and used to generate additional kilowatt-hours revenue. Pairing NX Flow VFB technology with ground-mounted solar power offers a bankable long duration storage option for project developers and asset owners.

— Solar Builder magazine