How has Technology Influenced the Evolution of the Solar Industry?

An increasingly greater number of corporates and individuals are looking to migrate from traditional sources of power to more sustainable alternatives. Among all options, solar power is emerging as one of the most advanced and reliable, making it a highly popular choice among individuals looking for clean energy adoption.

Solar power has come a long way since its debut in the 1960s. Today, with nearly 6 decades of technological advancements under its belt, solar power is perhaps the most competitively priced, reliable and scalable alternative. This has naturally led to exponential growth of the sector.

Let’s take a look at the various technological advancements that have been instrumental in this evolution.

Photovoltaic modules continue to remain at the heart of the solar power industry. However today, with the use of polycrystalline solar panels, customers can expect efficiency in the range of 16 to 18%, with the potential to go up to 24% with the use of monocrystalline when deployed with the PERC technique. What this means is that modules can now harvest more energy than before. Additionally, with technologies like PET (polyethylene terephalate) and PVDF (polyvinylidene fluoride) in back sheet production, dated technologies like Tedlar type backsheets are also a thing of the past.

Inverter technologies too have needed to keep pace with the evolution taking place in a PV power plant. With power ratings increasing from 500 kW to 5 MW, PV inverters have played a significant role, helping improve construction speeds significantly. PV inverters are also key to determining the efficiency and reliability of solar power generation from a project. What makes invertors indispensable to the solar power industry is their inbuilt monitoring abilities as well as the capacity to supply power during the night.

Transformer designs have progressed to meet inverter requirements of dv/dt withstand, impedances, and galvanic isolation. The latest, most popular, are the two Core Coil Assembly (CCA) transformers that are used to lower the Balance of System (BOS) cost without affecting impendence and galvanic isolation. With the introduction of 1500V DC system, developers are now able to build and operate plants efficiently. Moreover, thanks to new transformer designs, inverters can now handle DC overloading of up to 60% to flatten the generation curve.

Self-adjusting tracker control systems are now able to increase PV power plant energy output by 15-20%. These smart machine-learning-led systems are built to continuously analyze and optimize the tracking algorithms of every single row. In addition, they can also monitor and predict weather conditions. By combining these two abilities, these intelligent systems can help generate the maximum energy yield possible. Studies have shown that an increase in power production has a direct impact on the performance of the plant and helps in lowering operating costs.

Remote monitoring is an essential aspect of solar PV system analysis and maintenance. With nearly all solar plant installations being located in industrial zones, without remote monitoring, it becomes difficult for operations and maintenance (O&M) providers to observe the functioning of the system on a daily basis, or even the play of weather on it. The access isn’t restricted to providers, but is also shared with clients, helping plug the information gap, if any.

Advanced data analytics tools help in the monitoring of plants and assist in identifying possible failures well in time. All equipment communicate with specialized SCADA, and this condition monitoring reduces down time to a great extent.

Drones too are proving their capabilities in monitoring solar farms, especially in remote locations. Thermal sensing drones can identify under-performing or malfunctioning PV modules, thus preventing larger breakdowns. By enabling speedy repairs, drones can help enable greater levels of performance in large scale solar farms.

Best-in-class water conservation technologies are helping solar developers apply specialized cleaning methods, such as increased pressure cleaning tools and improved dry cleaning methods, during operations and maintenance. By using robotic cleaning systems with increased precision, water consumption is also reduced.

Distributed generation allows private users to generate their own electricity from renewable sources, and is a cost effective form of solar power generation. However, the current grid infrastructure will be unable to keep pace with this diversification in energy sources without significant changes. It is therefore imperative for the government of India to move towards a ‘smart grid’ alternative, which is a fully-automated power delivery network that can monitor and control every consumer and node, and enable two-way flow of electricity and information.

What does the future say?
Over and above these larger technologies, the solar sector is seeing various developments such as energy storage and wind-solar hybrid plants, to supply energy during non-solar hours as well. Innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) will make solar plants more efficient and intelligent, and will help in the growth of the solar industry. Lastly, there is also an increased focus on Electric Vehicle (EV) infrastructure, solar carports, etc. as a means to take solar power to even more customers.

The solar sector is only moving forward with exciting technological developments. All that remains is for greater adoption of this alternative source of power by more corporates.