Here comes the sun

POWERING THE ENERGY TRANSITION WITH INNOVATIVE SOLAR TECHNOLOGIES. BY ALAIN ROBIC


It is no longer a question of whether solar power will play a major role in the future of power production, but rather a question of how much of a country’s renewable power portfolio will be solar. To make the most of this incredible zero-carbon power source – the amount of solar energy that hits the earth in a single hour could power all of human civilization for an entire year – we must endeavor to increase efficiency and build solar power infrastructure on a massive scale. By reducing manufacturing and operating costs and increasing efficiency, solar power can truly become the power-source for the century ahead.

Tomorrow’s solar power infrastructure will build upon the same structure we use today. Photovoltaic panels in solar parks convert solar energy directly into direct current (DC), which is then converted to alternating current (AC) and supplied to the grid. What will change in the decades ahead will be the scale, operating and manufacturing costs and efficiency.

OPEX will become more important than CAPEX
Technological developments, increasing installation expertise, and government incentives have precipitated a huge decrease in the initial capital investment (CAPEX) required to build a solar farm. As these costs continue to drop and it becomes more affordable to set up solar infrastructure, it will be the operating costs (OPEX) which determine the long-term effectiveness of solar power.

Fortunately, operating costs for solar farms are typically low, especially when compared to complex and fuel-hungry traditional energy production. Operators must continue to leverage their technological advantages to optimize their solar farm’s performance, especially when electricity demand is high.

To do so, the entire supply chain must be oriented to support the developers, installers and operators of solar farms to provide them with custom solutions which closely match their specific requirements. At Nexans, we have expanded our Nexans Keylios® solar products portfolio to provide full end-to-end energy, data cabling and tracker solutions to support this fast-moving industry.

Our recent advances include solar copper cable, low-voltage (LV) DC underground aluminum cable, medium-voltage (MV) AC cables for grid connections, pre-connected jumpers and solar trackers. All of our hardware is designed for easy, safe installation and supported by a dedicated Services & Solutions team, ensuring that operating costs remain as low as possible.

Innovations in hardware
Two innovations which are already rolling out to new solar farms are improved harnesses and trackers.

Modern harnesses, such as our new Keylios Photovoltaic Harness, can significantly reduce both CAPEX and OPEX, further increasing the return on investment of a solar farm. Rather than undertaking the costly and error-prone work of fitting harnesses on-site, modern harnesses are cut to the customer’s exact size requirements off-site and delivered in an easy-to-handle kit, meaning that no cutting or crimping is required. They are also more resilient to failure, because they are ultrasonically welded and meet IP67 standards. This is significant because connectors and cables cause around half of all faults on solar farms.

Overall, standardized harnesses can reduce the amount of low voltage DC cabling necessary for a farm by around 15 per cent, significantly reducing costs and minimizing the installation’s environmental impact. Further, the additional space created by exact-fit harnesses makes it possible to miniaturize other components, such as connection boxes.

Trackers, meanwhile, are the only moving component in a solar panel installation, allowing panels to follow the sun as it moves across the sky. Typically, using trackers increases the output of a solar park by around 25 per cent compared to fixed solar panels. The Keylios Solar Tracker, an example of the potential of next generation of solar trackers, features an innovative design that brings greater value to developers than ever before.

The Keylios Solar Tracker is centered around a robust truss beam structure which supports a double vertical row of 2V modules. It withstands high wind loads while using just two foundations for a typical 36 kW array – around one-fifth of a conventional design. Instead of drilling piles down to bedrock, modern trackers use a far simpler concrete foundation, enabling operators to set up farms on unstable ground. As solar farms continue to grow, the ability to build in new locations – including atop landfills and other industrial waste spaces – will be incredibly valuable.

A solar-powered future
On a recent project in Australia, Nexans provided hardware for solar farms which will produce 672 MW – enough electricity to power over 600,000 homes. On large-scale projects such as this, even marginal savings or efficiency improvements accumulate to make a major difference. Yet instead of single-digit percentages, technological advancements offer double-digit improvements in these areas, further emphasizing the staggering value that solar power already offers and laying the foundations for an exciting solar-powered future.

NEXANS SOLAR TECHNOLOGIES
Alain Robic is CEO of Nexans Solar Technologies. Nexans is a key driver for the world’s transition to a more connected and sustainable energy future. For over 120 years, the Group has brought energy to life by providing customers with advanced cable technologies for power and data transmission. Today, Nexans goes beyond cables to offer customers a complete service that leverages digital technology to maximize the performance and efficiency of their critical assets. The Group designs solutions and services along the entire value chain in three main business areas: Building & Territories (including utilities and e-mobility), High Voltage & Projects (covering offshore wind farms, subsea interconnections, land high voltage), and Industry & Solutions (including renewables, transportation, oil and gas, automation, and others).

For further information please visit: www.nexans.com/business/Industry—Solutions/Solar.html