At Intersolar Europe this October, Trina Solar hosted a panel of investment, module and tracker experts discussing the solar pipeline and what trends are currently driving bankability. Moderated by Trina Solar’s Investment Fund Manager Tim Day, he was joined by Adele Zhao, Head of Product Solutions and Marketing in Europe. Our guest panellists were Dr (Eng.) Sebastian Nold, Head of Team Techno-Economic and Ecological Analyses at Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, Christian Soler Sandoval, Product & Applications Director at Power Electronics and Patrick Warren, Chief Technical Officer at Mainstream Renewable Power.
With strong solar growth continuing in Europe, the group examined attracting new investors and prompting existing investors to expand their portfolios. When a typical solar project is planned 2-3 years in advance, this means investors are looking at the best technologies in the marketplace now to ensure the best asset from an investment point of view. The systems and technology must balance reliable, proven technology and strong innovation to drive down LCOE and BOS costs.
Future-proof module technology trends
For example, when it comes to PV modules, the trend is moving towards larger formats, such as Trina Solar’s Vertex 670W. But our panel also agreed the market should expect further diversity on cell types in the module. For example, whereas PERC solar and p-type material have been a popular trend in project application, there is now a move towards n-type cells, which also have durability in the marketplace.
Another significant module trend is the move to bifacial modules; globally, over 80% of utility projects use bifacial, a surprisingly high number, which is showing substantial increases even with Europe’s lower irradiation than other parts of the world in yields for utility plants. Together with intelligent trackers, where the algorithms are becoming smarter to optimize performance across a range of terrains and weather conditions.
But it’s the compatibility of 210mm modules and standardization of manufacturing process, fittings and mounting structures that bring agility to the high-power solar market. “One and a half years ago, the industry kicked off the process to standardize modules. This is great news; we now have standardized cell and module sizes going forward,” Trina Solar’s Adele Zhao shared with the group.
The cost benefits of system integration
Beyond module and tracker, there are advancements in system integration.
“I think one of the main changes we see in PV projects is the length of the string. Of course, the design depends on the location of the plant but generally speaking, we are seeing a lot of plants where the engineers are pushing the DC voltage up to a value as high as 1300 volts when two or three years ago, these values were never higher than 1100 volts,” says Christian Soler Sandoval, from Power Electronics.
This results in several benefits for LCOE reduction, notably a reduction in DC cabling and the number of trackers needed and allows the inverter to work at a higher AC voltage. From an investment point of view, the lower CAPEX and OPEX costs are appealing, especially when the schemes are comparatively providing more power.
The panel further acknowledge how long-term collaboration across manufacturers and investors is essential for operational and cost-efficiency. Patrick Warren elaborates,
“System integration is key to achieving a lower LCOE but there are four Main inputs that contribute to this CAPEX, OPEX, energy yield and asset life. Collaboration should happen as early as possible in the design and development phase of projects, with early engagement from suppliers for a longer-term implementation and operational partnership,”
Patrick continues to explain what this means for solar bankability, “It's fine having new technologies and saying your energy yield is excellent with this system design but you have to get the lenders on board and get them comfortable, otherwise your cost of capital is going to be high and your COE is going to be affected”.
The expanding horizon of solar
With optimized system integration and a flexible value chain with standardized components and fittings, investors see this paving the way for a broader range of solar applications.
“I think we will see diversification in the whole market; PV will be everywhere in the future,” says Dr Sebastian Nold from the Fraunhofer Institute. “We will be looking further solutions for integrated photovoltaics, in the urban environment, for example, in parking lots, on roads and vehicle integrated. We also think a strong industry might be the agricultural industry, merging PV with agri-foldable machinery, for example.”
The panel acknowledged the role of solar in Net Zero Carbon action planning, as every company examines their footprint throughout their value chain and logistics network. They agreed that products, components, and integrated systems must be designed to use even less energy and resources for this circularity in today’s world and beyond.
Watch the full discussion