Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL), one of China’s largest solar panel manufacturers, recently announced that it will team up with QBotix, a start-up that develops robotic trackers for solar power plants. The two companies will collaborate on commercial as well as test projects and will also develop design solutions for commercial solar project developers.  We believe that the partnership is a positive for Trina Solar since it will be among the first panel manufacturers to utilize QBotix’s innovative technology which can help reduce the cost of its utility scale solar projects.
QBotix Technology Helps Cut Balance Of System Costs
Due to declining prices, solar panels now account for just about one-third of a solar project’s overall cost. More than half the costs associated with a solar farm come from balance of systems equipment such as solar trackers, inverters and switches. In order to bring down the cost of solar generated electricity, reducing the balance of system cost becomes imperative.
Solar tracking systems increase the amount of electricity generated by panels by shifting their positions through the day to track the sun. Traditional tracking systems are usually quite expensive to install since each array of solar panels has a motor and other moving mechanical parts. Maintenance also becomes an issue since multiple motors cause a higher probability of failure. The QBotix system, on the other hand, uses just two robots which travel on rails and can individually adjust up to 200 panel arrays through the day. QBotix’s systems also use less steel, which is a significant cost for tracking systems. The trackers can help boost electricity generation by as much as 40% compared to traditional fixed ground mounted systems. QBotix estimates that costs can be reduced by around 15% compared to conventional tracking systems. ((Forbes))
Trina’s Utility Scale Plans
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Like most large solar manufacturers, Trina solar has been moving to the relatively profitable utility segment by building large scale solar farms. Utility scale solar projects are attractive since they allow firms to capture downstream value by building customized power plant projects as opposed to just supplying modules, which are becoming increasingly commoditized. Trina expects its project systems business to account for about 20% of its sales in 2013 and has made some progress into the Chinese and U.S. utility scale markets by entering into power purchase agreements in the U.S. It is doing the groundwork for the construction of utility scale plants in eastern China as well.
While the agreement may not give Trina Solar an exclusive right to use QBotix technology, it is still likely to have a first mover advantage in deploying this tracking technology in its solar plants. This could help the firm bring down the balance of system and construction costs for its solar projects while improving their efficiency.Notes: