Tracker vendors go deeper and wider


Since we last compiled the Tracker Market Overview, the trend for almost every vendor has been to cast its net wider to seek new business and sales opportunities. Most of the vendors we surveyed are expanding, whether by going international, or developing new applications for tracking in their home market, or creating additional products to serve their traditional customer base. Several vendors have reported increasing their installed base.
The larger vendors, and even smaller newer ones, are reporting that they have been successful abroad, while still others are deepening relationships with existing customers and potential customers by offering new services or add-on products. And a small group is reporting that they have developed new use cases for their tracking systems. Schüco was the only vendor to report that it stopped selling its tracker system.
Going beyond the local market is a trend among the larger players in the tracker market, such as DEGERenergie, Mecasolar, and Titan Tracker.
But even some of the newer entrants, such Kemper, based in Vreden, Germany, are reporting early success. Kemper’s Chief Operating Officer, Alexander Lenfers, told pv magazine his company has contracted its first orders in Greece and has begun to establish ties in the Indian market, while Titan Tracker has been achieving some large sized contract wins in Italy. Titan has also entered a strategic partnership with Solaristech, which grants the Italian company a license to manufacture and commercialize its dual-axis solar trackers for conventional PV throughout Italy.
It is not just European tracking system vendors who are crossing borders. Canadian vertically integrated manufacturer, OPEL Solar, recently signed a joint venture with Ecotech Environmental Technology, of Hong Kong, to form OPEL Solar Asia to develop the market for Concentrated PV solar panels and dual axis solar trackers in China. It is already bearing fruit, with five megawatts of projects. And Clenergy, a Xiamen, China-based tracker, racking, and inverter company, recently established a German subsidiary to develop the market in the region.
Going international is not easy or straightforward for tracker vendors. They sometimes need to modify their products or even develop new systems for particular regions to address local weather conditions, latitudes, and the local political framework for subsidies or feed-in tariffs. All this is in addition to the typical internationalization tactic of finding and forming local strategic distributors and partners, and/or building up a direct sales team abroad.
Just how tracker vendors meet the needs of local markets is best explained with a few examples. Kemper is developing the KemSWIVEL tracker. “It will be single and/or dual axis. It has a low height, under 250 centimeters (cm), which means less shadow but also enables it to compete in Greece, for example, where building licenses limit the height of the PV system to 250 cm. The Greek market also demands focusing on certain products by DEGERenergie. Because the Greek government program subsidizes ten-kilowatt photovoltaic units on roofs with a tax-free feed-in tariff, the German company has had success with its smaller TOPtraker 8.5 system.
DEGERenergie is also selling larger systems in Greece. It says it has sold dual-axis systems there with a total output of more than two megawatts. The company has also crossed several other borders in recent months, including India, where it expanded in cooperation with Indian solar park operator Reliance Industries Ltd and in Australia, where it teamed up with local partner, Solar Inverters. Together, the two are building a Flagship Project in New South Wales to compare tracking systems with a rigid solar installation.
In some case tracker vendors have opted to open local factories to address an international market. For example, several vendors have established local production in Ontario in order to qualify as a Canadian supplier. DEGERenergie has been there for a year, Mecasolar since last July, and sonnen_systeme Projektgesellschaft announced its new plant in Ontario September. The U.S. market is also attracting European tracking system vendors. TecnoSun Solar Systems has established a subsidiary in Toledo, Ohio and DEGERenergie is establishing one in Phoenix, Arizona.

New use cases for tracking

Kemper stepped up the promotion of its tracking systems on dual use sites in recent months, and it brought to market a revamped version of its flagship tracker to address the fact that subsidies are declining in its home market. The new design is less costly to produce and enables modules to be positioned quite widely on a horizontal plane, which keeps system height at a minimum. The profile serves to reduce shadowing. The benefit is better use of available space. In neighboring Netherlands, Monster-based Van der Valk Solar Systems, which makes systems known for their lightweight design, is looking to develop the market for solar energy in the country’s large greenhouse farming sector. To address the rooftop market opportunity, Van der Valk teamed up with module manufacturer GH Solar to develop a solution specifically suited for greenhouse roofs, with the product name GreenTop. The first GreenTop project of 200 kilowatts-peak started in the first quarter of this year, and it is one of the biggest in the country, according to GH Solar.
TecnoSun Solar Systems is gaining ground in developing solar trackers under extreme conditions. It won an order from the Swiss general contractor MBR Thurgau for 45 of its two-axis tracker, EcoChamp ST 3000, for a plant located at a 1,700-meter elevation in mountainous Graubünden, Switzerland. It is a roof-mounted system that has a very low-profile lighter weight design, giving it stability in wind and snow conditions. A motor drive robust enough for snowy and cold conditions also made the system attractive to the Swiss customer, as did the backtracking option to handle shading which can be a real problem for sites in the mountains.

Going deeper

France’s EXOSUN is taking a different approach, rather than developing niche or new use cases in its market, it is become more vertically integrated, adding a range of engineering services to cover the entire life-cycle of solar plants. The French manufacturer of tracker systems says it is now one of the first companies in its home market able to lead solar projects from initial project concept. German manufacturer a+f is also taking such an approach. It has added storage solutions to its product mix – an add-on product that it can sell to existing as well as new customers. The company developed two large vanadium redox flow-batteries, enable customers to do some peak and load management. Users can control the time at which energy is supplied to the network or when it is used locally. a+f says that the batteries could also be used in solar powered filling stations for electrical vehicles, or in grid-independent solutions.
Three key trends grew in strength since the latest tracker market overview. Several manufacturers are successfully crossing borders and finding new sales opportunities. Others are going vertical by developing adjacent products and services, while still others are going deeper in their home markets, finding new applications for tracking.