Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Nextracker uses IoT to improve solar plant performance

Steve Rogerson
July 18, 2017



California-based Nextracker has developed an intelligent, self-adjusting tracker control system for solar power plants.
 
Called TrueCapture, it continuously refines the tracking algorithm of each individual solar array in response to existing site and weather conditions. Typically delivering two to six per cent energy gains, it enables system owners and developers to increase solar system performance and enhance profits for solar power facilities.
 
"TrueCapture is our biggest innovation since we introduced independent row, self-powered tracking," said Dan Shugar, CEO at Nextracker. "For the first time, advanced machine learning is being applied to unlock the true potential of power plant performance. We are taking a technology that has been around for over two decades and infusing it with intelligence to meet the needs of a new data-driven world."
 
Solar power plants suffer energy production losses from construction variability, terrain undulation and changing weather. TrueCapture simultaneously solves these problems, leveraging forecast-based tracking behaviour algorithms for clouds, fog or haze and row-to-row hybrid closed-loop self-learning that course corrects the panel direction to reduce production loss due to shading and clouds.
 
Wireless self-powered controllers on the tracker sync with the smart panels and the Nextracker scada (supervisory control and data acquisition) system, connected through Flex's IoT platform, a secure, NERC-CIP compliant, industrial-strength connected intelligence platform. From the Flex IoT platform, communications  are continually dispatched to control each independent row.
 
"If any company can incorporate as-built site conditions and machine learning into its system design, it's Nextracker," said Clenera CEO Jason Ellsworth. "The company continues to push our industry forward with new ways to improve system performance."
 
Backtracking, first introduced in 1991, offered a significant improvement in PV plant energy yield. It was optimised for flat arrays and low diffuse conditions. TrueCapture advances these yield gains by incorporating individual row tracking for real world conditions that have hilly terrain and partly cloudy or fully diffuse conditions.
 
With TrueCapture, proprietary smart panel sensors provide real-time shading information on each tracker row. The data are integrated with design parameters and processed by machine-learning software to build a virtual 3D model of the job site. An intelligent control engine combines the model with the latest meteorological forecast data to calculate and send updated and optimised tracking commands to every independent row.
 
As a result, energy production gets a significant boost. With more production, solar power plants are worth more, adding value for project developers and the long-term owners who will typically operate a facility for up to 30 years.
 
Nextracker, a Flex company, is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has offices in China, India, Spain, Latin America and Australia.