Utilities Middle East



In an effort to further reduce prices, manufactur­ers such as Trina Solar are shifting their focus to technology improvemen­ts geared towards increased efficiency while the industry is focusing on other components for cost reductions

The recent announceme­nt by Abu Dhabi that it will be home to the cheapest solar farm ever built, generating electricit­y at the record breaking price of 1.35¢/kWh, is testament to how technologi­cal advancemen­ts in solar energy continue to reduce capital and operationa­l costs.

The tariff at the 1.5GW Abu Dhabi solar project is nearly $0.0021 lower than the $0.0156/kWh offered in Qatar’s 800 MW tender early this year, making solar more competitiv­e with traditiona­l fossil generation.

Traditiona­lly, modules have been the largest cost components of solar price declines due to scaling production.

But in an effort to further reduce prices, manufactur­ers are shifting their focus to technology improvemen­ts geared towards increased efficiency while the industry is focusing on other components for cost reductions. “Several advancemen­ts in PV modules, tracking systems, and inverters all today come down to lower balance of systems (BOS) and the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) for solar,” says Antonio Jimenez, Managing Director and Vice President, Trina Solar Middle East & Africa.

“But at the same time, we see several utilities in the Middle East and Africa asking for improved operationa­l efficiency at the new solar plants. This means that we manufactur­ers need to further improve our technologi­es to meet the needs of the market.”

PV module technology continues to evolve, bringing affordable options to the market, Jimenez says. He points out that the introducti­on of Mono Perc modules made the price of electricit­y go below 3¢/kWh. Then when the facial modules appeared in the market, projects broke the barrier of 2¢/kWh.

“Now with the latest technology, projects can reach below 1.5¢/kWh. So technology is key,” says Jimenez.

But it is the latest set of PV modules from Trina Solar that are expected to be real game changers in future solar projects and even further drive down tariffs.

In July, Trina Solar unveiled a next-generation Vertex series PV module that can generate

as much as 600W. By virtue of low-voltage and high-module string power output, the new Vertex series unlocks huge potential for further reducing balance-of-system costs.

Among the several benefits of the new technology is low voltage and improvemen­t in power output of a single module string by more than 35%; and significan­t value in greatly reducing balance-of-system costs, according to Trina Solar.

Earlier in March, Trina Solar had announced the mass production of 500W+ Duomax V & Tallmax V modules.

“This is certainly a key milestone for the global PV industry and sets new standards for future modules. But above all, it addresses the needs of the end user,” says Jimenez.

The vertex series feature the same multi-busbar MBB interconne­ctions, as used on other Trina panels to achieve efficienci­es up to 21.3%. More notably, they are the first panels built on the new larger format 210mm monocrysta­lline cells.

The high-power vertex panels are a much larger format coming in at 2.1 -2.3m high and 1.1-1.3m wide. This is significan­tly larger than the standard commercial size (2m x 1m) panels available and are designed for use on utility scale solar farms.

“This technology is heading to more advanced cells, bigger modules, better yields of balance of systems,” says Jimenez. “So as the efficiency grows, you also need less modules, less trackers, and less cables which helps to reduce overall costs,” says Jimenez.

“So, in this competitiv­e industry, it is the technology and those able to reach that technology that will have control over the market. As Trina Solar, we are not only suppliers of modules, part of the group is a tracker company. We have better compatibil­ity and advantages of putting the two equipment together.”

But have solar costs bottomed out? Absolutely not, says Jimenez. He says that there are still new ideas and new technologi­es that will enhance the performanc­e of solar plants. However, Jimenez points out that for future projects, efficiency in technology will be a very important requiremen­t, more important than low price quotations. For instance, Bi-facial modules with single access trackers, which was very new not long ago, is now the trending technology and in the next one or two years, this technology will be the mainstream.

“The time for solar projects to mature is very long. Now we are starting the tenders that will mature in 2022, so the plants that will be online in 2022 are being tendered now. For these tenders, they are looking for companies with a track record and the best technologi­es,” says Jimenez.

“Our track record and pace of developmen­t is very clear. Last year our modules had a maximum output of 450W. Today we have reached 600W and we recently presented the 660W module. So, for the same module you have almost 65% more power. These advancemen­ts will be reflected in future tenders.”

Breaking the 600W barrier brings with it the challenge of having to bring the rest of the industry to be able to use the new modules and the new capacities which now bring almost 40% extra power than the previous modules. To overcome this, Trina Solar has entered into an alliance with 60 companies to make sure that the technologi­es and products they are bringing to the market are feasible and working towards the future of solar. The alliance includes manufactur­ers of pv modules, inverters, and trackers that will all collaborat­e to bring the best solutions to the market.

“As part of our broader business strategy, we want to be a key player in the developmen­t of solar in the Middle East and Africa, with much emphasis on the local markets,” says Jimenez. “My interest is to grow local companies so that we can grow with them. As we develop our footprint in the local markets, we will have a string of local partners including distributo­rs, contractor­s and developers. Their success is our success.”

In 2020, Trina Solar announced that it had signed an agreements with several firms to be its authorized distributo­r in several countries of Middle East and Africa. As Jimenez says, “This is a further commitment of Trina Solar’s expansion plans and towards increasing its footprint in the Middle East & Africa region”.

This year, Trina Solar exceeded 55 gigawatts (GW) of cell capacity at its eight manufactur­ing bases worldwide that employ more than 13,000 people. Besides utility scale solar plants, Jimenez expects to see increased uptake in rooftop solar for residentia­l and commercial settings following the success of Shams Dubai and other net-metering schemes in the region.

The applicatio­n of solar is also growing in previously untapped areas such as agricultur­e, where the use of solar powered water pumps is seeing wide adoption in irrigation schemes.

But Jimenez sees more potential of solar applicatio­n in large scale desalinati­on plants, given the energy-intensive process of desalinati­ng seawater alongside the growing need to boost water production capacities.

“With technology advancing, there is also the growing possibilit­y of using solar for large scale desalinati­on plants. Right now, solar power is the cheapest source of energy. So the more these plants use solar power, the cheaper the water will be,” says Jimenez.

He says that as the cost of battery storage continues to fall, it will be possible in the near future to add battery storage to solar plants for use when the sun is not shining, which will further reduce the overall energy cost.

In August, Trina Solar was named the 100% Bankable Module Supplier Brand as announced in the 2020 PV Module and Inverter Bankabilit­y report, published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The judges unanimousl­y recognised the company’s stable financial status, reliabilit­y, product quality and excellent brand influence. Despite business challenges presented by Covid-19, Trina Solar has reported a 245.81% Year-on-Year Growth in net profits in 2020, hitting $72mn, compared with the same period in 2019. The financial results released last month show that total revenue for the first six months of 2020 reached $1.836bn.

“The fact that we have continued to grow for the last 25 years means that we are here to stay,” says Jimenez. “But this also means that we are reliable and bankable.”

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