Tag Archives: energy

Challenges for Operations and Maintenance in the PV Industry

As mentioned in an earlier post, the importance of operations and maintenance (O&M) of solar power plants is growing throughout the global market, particularly in Europe. One major reason for this growth is that operators of these systems are faced with increasing challenges and have to come up with new solutions to combat them. Creating an operations and maintenance team is one such solution.

Some of the most common challenges these teams face are sand, microclimates, and crime. While each of these factors may not affect every solar power plant, understanding what they are and their impact on productivity can help companies prevent possible problems and maintain maximum efficiency.

Blowing sand

Sand

The climate in the location of a solar plant can impact efficiency. Because trackers are often situated in desert climates, sand and dust can cover the modules. In fact, many companies are looking to implement frameless technologies in their systems, as edges often act like a sand trap and collect excessive dust. If sand is not cleared regularly, it can build up and potentially shut down operation for a period of time. Any downtime is essentially money lost for a plant, as it’s critical to collect as much solar energy as possible every day.

While some firms have hired teams to regularly vacuum the panels, many are requiring the assistance of water to rinse sand away. This poses an additional challenge, as these climates often are dry and the cost to ship water in the large amounts necessary can be extremely expensive.

Microclimates

While having solar plants in dusty climates is a challenge by itself, different microclimates within these areas can cause additional problems.

In certain regions of these dusty climates, humidity comes into play. If an area experiences low-lying humidity, either near coasts, agricultural areas or regions that see light rain, the dust can turn into mud. This is more difficult to clean and creates darker shade spots on the panels, which interferes with sun collection.

Crime

Since solar power plants are often located in isolated areas, crime can be a big challenge for tracking systems. In newer markets, theft has been a problem for many companies and plants are starting to require extra security. Some have employed guards to prevent crime, hiring locally to support the nearby neighborhoods and encourage community buy-in of the plant.

As more O&M teams are created to help minimize the impact of these challenges, intelligent strategies and integrated solutions become more critical to maximum efficiency.

Solar Market Growth Research: Global Single-Axis Solar Tracker Use Is on the Rise

The solar power industry is starting to see a shift in applications across global markets. According to Information Handling Services (IHS), use of photovoltaic (PV) solar trackers is on the rise. In 2013, only about 11 percent of ground arrays utilized PV trackers, but the projections for 2015 for the use of this equipment are as high as 20 percent for the global solar market.

It’s not just projections suggesting solar market growth, but there is also data to back it up. Research from IHS found that 4 GW of tracker installations were mounted in 2014, which is more than 60 percent higher than the previous year.

Single-axis solar trackers

Part of this growth may be attributed to the increasing popularity of single-axis solar trackers. These systems rotate on an axis to follow the sun as it moves throughout the day, which results in increased energy yield. This trend is expected to continue for large-scale, ground-mounted solar plants around the world because greater energy yield results in greater return on investment. In fact, IHS predicts revenues for global single-axis tracker systems will increase 120 percent by 2019, to $2 billion.

While the global market is seeing this trend on a larger scale, in particular, research suggests single-axis systems will be the preferred technology for North America by 2019. IHS also concluded that China and India are likely to be second and third in use of single-axis trackers in the next five years, with installations amounting to about 2 GW. Presently, these two nations prefer fixed-tilt trackers, but as discussed at SNEC 2015 in Shanghai, the use of single-axis solar tracking systems is on the rise in these markets.

Whether these projections are met in the coming years is yet to be seen, but the substantial increase from 2013 to 2014 suggests sun-tracking systems are on pace to grow exponentially.

More Solar Power Plants Increasing ROI Through Single-Axis Tracking Systems

Kinematics at SNEC 2105Kinematics attended the 9th Annual International Photovoltaic Power Generation Conference and Exhibition (SNEC 2015) in Shanghai last month and impressed many customers with the solar tracker reliability that comes with the use of slewing drives. The conference also initiated conversations about the solar power industry and where it may be going in the near future.

Projections in recent years have suggested Americans will continue to increase development and efficiency of solar power systems through the use of trackers that move on an axis. By 2019, the American solar tracking market will be the biggest it has been, making up about 36 percent of the global market, because of these new, more productive innovations.

Currently, the most commonly used trackers around the world are fixed, angled systems, but several American companies, such as SunPower, First Solar, SunEdison and other engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies, are using single-axis, rotating solar tracking systems instead. Evidence suggests these systems that follow the sun seem to be more efficient and get greater return on investment than fixed-tilt trackers.

Kinematics discussing solar trackers with the president of Asiana at SNEC 2015

In China and India, the preferred solar power system has been fixed-angle trackers because of the vast number of steel frame suppliers and low labor cost. However, single-axis tracking systems are gaining popularity quickly and starting to take more of a share of the solar power market. In fact, existing EPC companies in these regions are expected to develop new products based on the technology used in the tracking systems designed to follow the sun.

By moving in this direction on a global scale, sun-tracking systems should have explosive growth in the coming years.

Solar trackers at SNEC 2015 in Shanghai

To reduce cost in the Asia market in the immediate future, the efforts receiving much of the focus include finding ways to lower the cost of silicon material, high-efficiency cells, modules, inverters and steel frames. As far as efficiency goes, it is also critical to explore innovative methods that improve the generating capacity of solar tracking systems through smart operation and stronger monitoring.

How Better Consumer Segmenting Can Increase Energy Efficiency

Changing consumer behavior is no small task. Despite utility companies’ best efforts to encourage energy efficiency, many consumers resist making changes to reduce their energy consumption. According to the latest research by McKinsey & Company (McKinsey), very modest behavioral changes could lead to significant savings — as much as an additional 20 percent of residential power demands.

The research suggests that utilities should improve their understanding of how consumers behave and look for more effective ways of engaging them. Rather than segmenting the market based simply on age or location, it would help to look at it on a deeper level that includes emotional and attitudinal elements. McKinsey’s research identified five consumer segments that show varying levels of concern about energy use:

  • Green advocates comprise 20 percent of the population. They are motivated by perceived environmental benefits from more-efficient uses of energy. They have an interest in using new technologies.
  • Disengaged energy wasters make up another 20 percent of the population. They do not care about saving energy or saving money and are not interested in new technologies.

The rest of the population is motivated by saving money and is made up of three distinct groups:

  • Traditionalist, cost-focused energy savers who are motivated by saving money
  • Home-focused, selective energy savers who are motivated by home improvement
  • Non-green, selective energy savers who are happy to save energy as long as they don’t have to think about it

McKinsey recommends four approaches to engage more effectively with all types of consumers:

  1. Deploy an integrated segmentation approach

The approach should combine demographic as well as attitudinal and emotional inputs.

  1. Employ emotional motivation and attitudinal drivers

The emotional motivations of the segments offer powerful clues to the best approaches to engage them on energy efficiency initiatives.

  1. Increase the use of rebates and incentives

It’s important to tailor these offerings to each market segment based on what motivates them.

  1. Invest in marketing and research

Ramping up marketing and research will be important to better connect with market segments. Simply administering a brief phone survey could place up to 80 percent of consumers in the appropriate segment.

As McKinsey’s research suggests, customer segmentation can provide a great opportunity for U.S. utility and energy retailers. If they target consumer segments more accurately, they can increase energy efficient activities and lower power demands across the country.

Overcoming Market Barriers to Advance Energy Efficiency

The United States has greatly improved energy efficiency over the past several decades. In fact, energy consumption is almost half of what it would have been without efficiency initiatives.

Energy usage and expectations

That is great, but there is a lot of room for improvement. So how do we get there and what is standing in the way?

According to a recent report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a variety of market barriers and failures prevent us from reaching our full energy-efficiency potential:

  • Flawed Information: According to ACEEE, one of the largest barriers to advancing energy-efficiency is our unreliable information. In particular, the report states that our knowledge of the performance of different equipment, technologies, buildings, and other systems is imperfect. Our information related to energy consumption is also flawed, largely because energy savings are so difficult to measure.
  • Split Incentives: When the person making energy efficiency investments isn’t the one paying the actual energy bill (e.g., a landlord/tenant situation), the two not being in agreement can form a barrier.
  • Externalities: These barriers form when the costs and benefits are realized by people outside of the immediate participants in a transaction. This can be unavoidable costs an individual, group, or society incurs, such as pollution or traffic.
  • Imperfect Competition: Prices may be inefficient when there is not a fully competitive market.

According to the ACEEE, the following are ways to overcome these barriers:

Improving Information

  • Improve appliance labeling: Proper labeling will help consumers make decisions at the point of purchase and motivate them to consider energy efficiency.
  • Building labeling and disclosure: Building labeling should inform prospective buyers about the efficiency of a building so they can make more informed decisions. This would also help motivate them to make more profitable investments in energy efficiency.
  • Unfettering energy data: Individuals and businesses can make better decisions when they have proper information about their energy use and savings. This information should be relevant, accessible, and accurate.

Removing Legal Barriers

  • Improving Combined Heat and Power (CHP) interconnection standards: Transparency in the connections process will encourage the use of CHP systems.
  • Fair supplemental and backup power rates: By making this power more affordable and accessible, facilities will see more economic incentive for using CHP.
  • Output-based emission standards: Moving away from input-based standards would help CHP system owners justify the efficiency and environmental benefits of the system.
  • Valuation of ancillary services: If the various ancillary benefits of a CHP system were calculated (e.g., higher system reliability, increased power quality), the economic benefits of the system would be clearer to consumers and utilities.
  • Utility regulatory reform: Investor-owned utilities (IOUs) hinder investment in energy efficiencies and drive utilities to increase revenues. Implementing policies to properly align financial incentives can remove these barriers.
  • Restructure corporate income tax: Make changes so they no longer discourage investments in energy efficiency.

Even though there have been great strides in increasing energy efficiency, more can be done to help consumers save money. Knowing the barriers and possible solutions will allow a continued push toward reaching the country’s energy-saving potential.