Why the right solar trackers make bankable sense in Australia

Australian developers, financiers and EPCs are increasingly choosing solar trackers over fixed-tilt racking for their large-scale projects because of the trackers’ superior energy yield (20-30% more than fixed tilt) as well as cost of ownership and levelized cost of energy (LCOE) advantages. Horizontal single-axis trackers (SATs) in particular have become the technology of choice.

Funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which has invested more than AUS$1 billion over the past four years, is helping to underwrite more utility-scale projects across the country. This means that tracker selection has become increasingly important to reduce investor risk, optimize solar production, and maximize the long-term ROI for large solar projects. Bankability is key.

As a result, SAT companies are being vetted by independent engineering firms and must pass exhaustive mechanical and structural tests. Developers also want to work with companies that have a solid track record and will stay in business over the lifetime of the project.

Investors want to know that the tracking solutions they procure are reliable, resilient, and cost-effective to operate and maintain. Although the Australian solar market is quite price-sensitive and has become commoditized in many ways, it’s important to note that trackers themselves are not commodities. The type of SAT chosen for a project and the engineering expertise of the onsite team can have a profound impact on the performance, reliability and resiliency of the power plant as well as operations and maintenance (O&M) planning and costs.

Not all SATs are created equal, nor are the companies that supply them. SATs fall into two categories of system architecture: centralized, linked-row systems and decentralized systems comprised of independent, self-powered rows. NEXTracker’s innovative decentralized architecture provides multiple benefits, in terms of ease of installation, reliability and power density as well as capital and operational costs.

NEXTracker’s systems has been extensively evaluated and validated by some of the top third-party organizations. Our parent company, Flex, is a world-class contract manufacturer with substantial financial assets, overseeing a robust global supply chain.

Also, unlike most tracker companies, NEXTracker’s local team partners with Australian structural engineers to ensure the CPP-certified static and dynamic wind-speed design of our systems meets the national AS 1170.2 code for reliability and durability. In addition, the calculations and drawings for our Australian projects are stamped for NEXTracker structures and foundations.

This winning bankability combination has helped accelerate NEXTracker’s rise to the top of the market and led to the sale, shipment and deployment of more than 7 GW of trackers worldwide, including the first large-scale use of SATs in Australia at the 70.6 MW Moree Solar Farm in New South Wales and 2.3 MW at the Mount Majura Solar Farm in the ACT.

Australia Video Case Study: 70 MW Moree Solar Farm

The Moree project provides further examples of NEXTracker’s differentiated offering. Faced with a tricky geotechnical challenge, the engineering skills of the NEXTracker team and our Australian partners were put to the test. Because of the heavy, cracked clay prevalent throughout the Mehi River floodplains, a custom geodynamic design has been put in place to stabilize the tracker foundations, ensuring that the NH HorizonTM tracker’s agile mechanical system withstands the shifting clay. This desert area is also occasionally prone to flash flooding. Our tracker’s resilient design incorporates a higher clearance than centralized trackers as well as a “flood safe stow” mode, so that when flood waters rise, the system and its components will be high and dry.

A well-thought-out O&M approach has become increasingly important for Australian developers and system owners who want to see their solar farms perform well, with minimal maintenance, for the long haul. Our new white paper, “Tracking Your Solar Investment: Best Practices for Solar Tracker O&M,” provides a comprehensive look at how choosing the right tracker system combined with a predictable O&M strategy ensures the bankability and return on investment of a project throughout its lifetime.

For Australia to meet its aggressive target of 23.5% or more renewables by 2020, bankable smart solutions like the NEXTracker single-axis tracker will play a critical role in the successful completion of the plan.

Peter Wheale
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