Tomorrow's solar tracker: artificial intelligence to be part of upcoming PV projects
Daniel Timm, Engineering and Construction Director at STI Norland Brasil
Artificial intelligence will provide greater tracker autonomy not only from following the sun’s path but also in terms of achieving ideal power generation conditions.
In light of estimates suggesting that photovoltaic solar energy will be the most used power generation source worldwide as of 2035, solar tracker manufacturers seek new technologies to enhance their products and optimize power generation in their PV plants.
Trackers, which are developed to optimize energy absorption and increase power plant generation, can favor panel efficiency gains of up to 30%, depending on project location. With the aim to improve their products, other aspects considered by manufacturers are the interaction between trackers and other plant equipment, including panels and inverters.
Renewable energies are consistently leading the power-generation scene, with projects increasingly larger which at times cover extensions equivalent to 700 football fields. Just last year (2020), the overall power generation capacity from renewable sources grew 45%, according to the International Energy Agency. To satisfy high demand, the solar market is now using two technologies: bifacial modules and artificial intelligence.
Bifacial solar panels, as their name suggests, capture energy in both the front and rear sides. This technology is not new, as it was launched in the 80s with the aim to maximize the efficiency of something considered back then a luxury item due to its high cost.
Nowadays, the considerable price reduction of this technology has translated into an excellent cost-benefit ratio and scalability which drives many projects to use this type of modules as power increases range between 5% to 20% compared to conventional modules. Combined with solar trackers, bifacial modules are an excellent investment option.
According to the International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaic (ITRPV), bifacial modules will account for 35% of the photovoltaic market in 2028. Considering this technology is increasingly sought and can be further improved, it is paramount to keep investing in R&D and foster alliances with universities researching in this industry so as to ensure ongoing improvement. Aware of this question, the main solar market stakeholders have equipped themselves with in-house labs.
Artificial intelligence is another solution developed to help this industry and is expected to enhance competence throughout the renewable energy sector. It will not only favor increased tracker autonomy from the sun’s movement but will also contribute to achieving the best power generation conditions.
For example, in a cloudy day, the tracker will seek the position which optimizes generation based on existing radiation levels at that time. Artificial intelligence will allow trackers to change position automatically, thus favoring both solar generation and power storage.
The more energy is captured, the more power can be stored. Although the use of this technology is not generalized at a global scale, the international energy storage market is expected to grow at 25.49% of the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) by 2027, according to the Market Research Future Report (MRFR). Taking into account the level of globalization and flow of information, China and the US will presumably be at the forefront of this technology soon. Considering its strong product diversification and expansion, energy storage offers good prospects in the mid- and long-term in a country like Brazil.
In any case, it can be said that these technologies will make it possible to capture more solar energy, further favoring the position of this form of energy compared to other renewable sources. In addition, energy storage will make it possible to store energy at nighttime, meaning the future of this industry will shine brighter than ever.