Easy solar tracker installation as an asset – growing demand for cleaning systems
pv Europe: You recently signed a technology agreement with ATEC Architecture to manufacture and commercialize your HZ solar tracking system for the Chinese market. How important is that for you?
Jean-Noel de Charentenay: This is a strategic step for us to strengthen our position as a global player. It is not possible to enter the Chinese market without a local partner. ATEC Architecture is a major Chinese mounting systems manufacturer and has already installed seven GW of fixed mounting systems on Chinese PV plants within the last six years. ATEC is a private company, but their main customers are state utilities, which play a crucial role in the booming Chinese ground-mounted PV market. As our technology partner ATEC will manufacture most parts of our Exotrack HZ system, but we will still be a supplier for some of the core technology from France.
Is this a new step for you or do you have similar cooperation with manufacturers in other countries?
This is a new model for us. Until now we have manufacturing subcontractors in Europe, USA, South Africa and Brazil to whom we are selling, up to the local requirements. As a sublet company we concentrate on technology development and design and transfer that to our subcontractors together with our quality management. We run offices in the U.S., Brazil, South Africa and for sales and operation and additional services. But the technology partnership with ATEC in China now is a new step.
What are some crucial features of your HZ trackers for fast and easy installation? Are the parts assembled at the building site?
Through a simple and lightweighted design our Exotrack HZ v2 enables an installation rate of 200 man-hours per MW. We don`t need any special machines for installation, the heaviest part of our tracker is less than 30 kg This is especially important in regions where up to the topography you cannot use cranes or big machines. Our design in streamlined with few parts, pre-mounted elements and five times less bolts and nuts than most other trackers. We want to make the installation process simple.
What about maintenance costs?
It is hard to give figures. But our trackers are designed to run 25 years, with a standard warranty time of five years, that can be extended. For ten MW we need only 51 key components, for example only one electronic box. Thus we can minimize failure risks and reduce the need for O&M actions.
Do you also offer O&M services yourself?
We run a service platform, where our customers can get all the data from the solar plant and check the performance of the trackers. We have online access to most of the 400 MW of our trackers, that are installed worldwide. For around 150 MW we have responsibility and for some of them we are in charge for the complete 0&M of the plant, in some cases we are supporting other companies in their 0&M business.
How do you select and train your installer partners?
First, we require some basic information like about their financial structure or reference projects. Then we invite them to come to our headquarters in Bordeaux. But we don`t immediately list them as certified partners, but wait until they have implemented some projects. In the different regions, they train their local workforce and we support them with quality management advice. We cooperate with several European installers, who are active internationally in several markets. But in countries like South Africa domestic content ruling requires to partner with local enterprises. In total we have trained 25 installing companies.
Recently Next Tracker announced a package with battery storage. Do you see a trend for integrated solutions?
I don`t see a growing demand for integration or whole systems including storage. Most of our customers see the tracker as a crucial component of a PV plant and choose them separately, except for smaller installations. We see ourselves a pure tracker manufacturer.
What about cleaning systems?
There I see a real customer demand in some regions like MENA and there are not so many solutions yet for panels on trackers. We are in the stage to develop our own system and are in a testing phase in Chile with our customer EDF.
What role do European markets play. Or do you see mainly growth perspectives outside of Europe?
The largest market for ground mounted solar plants in Europe is France. But we are waiting for the next round of biddings, where we expect a share of installations with trackers of 20-25 percent. I don`t see other large markets in Europe for trackers, the political situation in Spain is still not stable. The most dynamic market outside of Europe are the U.S., but also the most difficult one because of fierce competition. Other markets like South Africa are also booming, though lots of PPAs there are still hanging in the pipeline. Brazil still has problems with financing. China and India are very interesting. They both have been focused on low cost, but now they are searching for more advanced technologies including trackers. Thus we are looking forward to our business with ATEC in China, in India we are still waiting.
Interviewed by Hans-Christoph Neidlein
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