Nextracker protects solar panels from extreme weather

In 2019, a hailstorm at the Midway Solar project in West Texas destroyed 400,000 of the facility’s 685,000 photovoltaic modules. This is one of the most blatant examples of the extreme weather risk for solar power generation. According to the insurer, this short-lived hailstorm caused damage of at least $ 70 million to the power plant.

The extreme weather events have increased due to climate change as we know due to the hurricanes, snowstorms and forest fires across the country in recent years. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2020 was one of the worst years in that regard, with about 22 billion dollar catastrophes or episodes causing overall damage of $ 1 billion or more. That is more than the annual average of 15 since 1980. These disasters are a threat to renewable energy plants. Nextracker – the winner of the Established Excellence category (5 to 14 years in business) of the Fast Company 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards from Fast Company – is a “solar tracker company” whose new software, NX Navigator, was introduced last year , aims to contain the damage caused by the weather on solar collectors, as the modules can be better controlled and monitored by the system owners. His functions could have avoided much of the damage at the Texas plant, says CEO Dan Shugar.

Hail storm damage halfway in Texas. [Photo: courtesy Nextracker]Users of the technology can monitor their panels with the software system and remotely view a digital map of their farm down to “detailed” details showing the status of the equipment and weather activity in the area. Then the operators of solar modules can order the system to react to bad weather. When snow is predicted, users can arrange the panels to position themselves to reduce the amount of snow that is affecting their function. In the event of a sudden hail storm, users can put the panels into hailstorm mode and remotely instruct them to move 60 degrees to safety to reduce the chance of damage. This is better than keeping them flat, which would increase the chances of hail hitting them head-on, causing the most damage.

[Screenshot: courtesy Nextracker]Hail, which can be unpredictable, is a particular target for this software. According to experiments with the Renewable Energy Test Center (RETC) – including so-called “hail cannon tests” – the NX Navigator increases the survival rate of the panels in storms from 82% to 99%. This is especially important as photovoltaic modules are likely to be exposed to five to ten hailstones in their lifetime. That’s a big hail the size of a golf ball. And some studies have shown that hail just keeps getting bigger.

Ultimately, the technology has the potential to reduce financial damage, but also to increase energy yield production, which is slowed down by weather events. This is crucial if we are to move to clean, green energy (which, ironically, we need more of due to climate change). Nextracker has a solar tracking system installed worldwide that extends from plants in the USA to Dubai, Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay. Panels worth around 1.5 GW have adopted the new software.

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