Best of 2018

Together with Autarco, our dealers installed a lot of interesting PV systems this year, offering security to their customers with our kWh guarantee. Here are some of our favorites.


Autarco modules on their way to the South Pole

Late november Edwin and Liesbeth left for the South Pole for their ‘Clean2Antarctica‘ mission. The first net-zero-energy and zero-waste expedition on the continent, with the aim of generating attention for climate change and inspiring people to take action.

Reaching the geographical South Pole will take the team thirty days and 2400 kilometres, in an ice desert where the sun never sets. So it makes perfect sense that solar energy is selected to power their vehicle. The Solar Voyager consists of a truck and two trailers that are outfitted with ten Autarco modules. Because of the strong reflections from the snow we opted for so-called bifacial panels, where both sides generate electricity. The panels are fixed with a dismountable system, if the wind blows too hard, the top row must be removed so that the trailer does not tip over. With even more wind all modules are taken off and the Solar Voyager is anchored until the storm sets.

Mother nature decided that only after eighty kilometers Edwin and Liesbeth had to temporarily halt their journey because of a blizzard. This lasted a day and a half and unfortunately it happened again only a day later. But as Edwin says ” even if we don’t always like turbulence, sometimes we need it, just a little bit. Turbulence can set into motion a new state of things”. Curious about the Wondering about the continuation? You can now follow the Solar Voyager via the live feed.


Operations & Maintenance for rooftop solar

The Operations & Maintenance (O&M) Best Practices Guide Version 3 was released last week at the annual O&M and Asset Management Conference in London. The latest version, developed by Solar Power Europe together with industry experts, now includes a chapter on distributed solar of which Autarco is very proud to be the leading author. The Guide is an excellent resource and we highly recommend all of our Dealers to take the time to read it carefully. O&M is not only critical to guarantee the long term performance of systems, but is also a huge opportunity for Dealers to develop long term relationship with their customers and generate stable and recurring revenue.

Recognition of Autarco's industry leadership.


The Guide covers key topics such as;

  • Key Performance Indicators
  • Recommended Response Times
  • Innovations and Trends

In recognition of the hard work and expertise provided by Autarco in the development of this chapter, our CFO, Dan Horan, was invited to make a keynote speech to introduce the new chapter. He explained during his presentation, “In the utility sector, asset owners are professionals who are knowledgeable about the risks of solar and have assistance from independent engineering, legal and insurance experts. As a result manufacturers, EPC’s and O&M suppliers are held accountable over the full 25-30 year life of a system. In contrast, distributed/rooftop system owners are preoccupied with other matters and don’t necessarily know the first thing about solar. This is made worse by the traditional distributed supply chain which involves a flow of individually branded components that flow through distributors, installers and then finally to the system owner. In most cases the risk and complexity flow down with the components and accumulate with a system owner who is ill-equipped to deal with them and often forgotten after installation.”

Best practises maximise return on investment.


One of our primary purposes at Autarco is to simultaneously remove that risk from both the system owner and the installers. We do this by remaining a stakeholder in the systems performance:

  • Being accountable for the quality and performance of our products.
  • Providing the necessary tools to our Partners to ensure the system design, install and financial modelling is done to the highest standard with the highest ease.
  • Providing intelligent operations (monitoring, alerting and diagnosis) and asset management (reporting) software to our Partners to enable them to easily provide maintenance services (or outsource if preferred).
  • Insuring the risk of lower irradiance and product defects

“You can’t guarantee long term performance of the best products in the world without taking long term care of them.”

Dan Horan – CFO Autarco

In partnership with our dealers.


We have complete confidence in the quality of our products, we know our partners do a great job on install and design, the final piece is to make sure long term operations and maintenance is done to the same high standards. As Horan states “You can’t guarantee long term performance of the best products in the world without taking long term care of them”. Together with our Dealers we can provide the same level of security and profitability that utility asset owners demand to our rooftop customers. Of course, if Dealers only want to install we can arrange another O&M provider to take over this responsibility.

If you are a solar installer who wants a full service end-to-end hardware and software solution that improves your bottom line, while offering your customers the best proposition in the market please get in touch with us today.

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The argument for now

The installed price of solar PV systems has decreased by an incredible 70% over the past 5 years, leading many potential solar owners to question whether they should invest now or wait for further price decreases. The answer for potential beneficiaries of the Dutch SDE+ program is clear; there is no better time than now.

Install costs in solar are decreasing...


The increased price competitiveness has driven the solar industry to record installations in 2017 of a massive 80GW compared to 20GW in 2012.  As a result, solar is now at grid parity in many parts of the world and we even see solar projects breaking ground in regions where there are additional taxes applied on solar as opposed to supporting subsidies. This is undoubtedly brilliant news, but it also gives rise to a common question asked by end customers; “If the price decreases so rapidly, why should I invest now? Isn’t it better for me to wait until solar is even cheaper and then invest?” There is sometimes strong merit in this argument and it can only be answered on a case by case situation per market.

“Value of SDE+ Payments decreases over 40% in 3 years”

... but so is the SDE+ subsidy.


For the Dutch market however, particularly the commercial SDE+ market, the answer is a resounding “DO NOT DELAY”. Potential owners should be absolutely utilising any SDE+ subsidy allocated or making the effort to apply during the current Autumn 2018 round due to close in October. Even considering the urgent need for everyone, individuals and businesses alike, to take action in reducing CO2 emissions to limit global warming, there is a purely economic decision to act now: acting now maximizes the lifetime returns of your solar system.

There are 4 primary factors that determine the financial performance of any solar system over a 15 year investment window. You can of course perform the same analysis over 20 or 30 years if desirable, but for the purpose of this article we take the 15 year subsidy period.

SDE+term SDE+rate Self-consumption correction Change from year 1 Deadline
2015 € 0.096 no Signed contract within 1 year, commissioning within 3 years
Spring 2016 € 0.084 no -12.5% Commissioning within 3 years
Autumn 2016 € 0.084 no -12.5% Commissioning within 3 years
Spring 2017 € 0.092 no -4.2 Signed contract within 1 year, commissioning within 3 years
Autumn 2017 € 0.084 no -12.5% Commissioning within 1.5 years
Spring 2018 € 0.062 yes Commissioning within 1.5 years
Autumn 2018 € 0.056 yes -42.2% Commissioning within 1.5 years

*The SDE+ rates in this table assume the highest price brackets and standard correction rates as published by RVO. In the case of the 2018 subsidy, a self use percentage of 50% is taken into account. This number will differ between projects, but even with a theoretical self use of 0%, the maximum subsidy is lower than years before. We are looking at systems <1 MWp.

Why investments in solar should not be postponed.


These data demonstrate a compelling case to invest now! If you have a SDE+ subsidy already approved, the lost opportunity for letting this lapse in the hope of reapplying later when solar costs are lower is clearly a fallacy that is not going to turn out like you hope. Furthermore, with more parties stepping into solar, competition for SDE+ budget is getting harder, leading to smaller chances of getting your request for subsidy awarded.

Recent changes in the Chinese market have resulted in price reductions and further changes to the global supply-demand situation are possible in the coming months. We will soon cover these impacts on the European market, both negative and positive, following the final MIP decision and further clarity on tariffs in key markets like India, Turkey and the US. Even these product price decreases don’t compare with the opportunity cost of failing to act now.

Potential system owners who look at falling module prices and think waiting is the best option, can be convinced to act now by emphasizing three key points;

  • Benefit and availability of SDE+ subsidy is decreasing at a faster rate.
  • Improving global economics is already pushing interest rates higher. Increasing one of the major costs of any solar projects.
  • We need climate action now.

If you have SDE+ customers who aren’t convinced or looking for something extra to convince them we are ready to help. Get in touch to offer a fully secured business case.


Do modules like this summer heat?

July was hot this year. Very hot. But this nice summer weather is good news for your solar modules, right? Or is it? In this article we look at the influence of these conditions on PV systems.

Due to the bright sun, at almost the highest point in its orbit and with hardly any clouds in the sky, irradiance reached record heights over the last couple of weeks. As shown in the graph below, in the Netherlands irradiance was 25-30% higher than the long term average.

So there was a lot of energy coming our way, ready to be harvested by solar modules. But this great irradiance comes with high temperatures, that surely didn’t go unnoticed. Tarmac was melting, bridges expanded until they wouldn’t open anymore, and crops drying out on the fields. The question now is, how do your PV systems react to this heat? Do they thrive under these conditions? Or are they taking it easy, as we humans tend to do?

Heat


It might sound counterintuitive, but where solar panels love the sun, the don’t particularly like the temperature coming with it. Solar modules are meant to convert light into electricity, not heat. To see exactly what this heat means for the yield of a PV system, we conducted a case study for an installation in our hometown Eindhoven. In this example, we are looking at a set of modules facing South, in an optimal 35° pitch. Looking into the meteorological data we collect on a daily basis, the average temperature in Eindhoven appeared to be around 3°C higher than the long term average. But because this higher ambient temperature is combined with the high irradiance and the heat generated by the modules themselves, it causes the average cell temperature to be 6°C higher than normal, easily reaching values as high as 60°C! This is bad news, because solar modules become less efficient in high temperatures, as do all semiconductors. Higher temperature means a lower potential difference within the cells, which results in lower voltages. And although the current might be a bit higher in situations like these, it doesn’t compensate the lower voltages, resulting in lower yields. After all, the output in watts is the product of voltage and current.

Effects


For our test case, irradiance for July was 34% higher than the long term average. At first glance you might expect yields to raise accordingly. Due to temperature losses, they don’t. The yield this month was only 30% higher, the difference being caused entirely by the high temperatures. As expected, this difference is higher than in previous years with their slightly milder summers. Usually, we look at a difference of around 1,5%, rather than the 4% for this year.

So yes, this sunny summer weather leads to higher yields for your solar modules. However, not exactly as high as you might expect. But while overall efficiency might be a bit lower, due to the high irradiance and the number of daylight hours, July will still be the best month of the year, as it is every year.

Temperature is only one of the many factors that influence the yield of a PV system. All of these values are taken into account in our design software, so it can accurately calculate the expected yields for any PV system. These exact calculations form a major part in Autarco’s insured kWh guarantee.


Acknowledging the importance of O&M

Last month Solar Power Europe launches the ‘Solar O&M Best Practices Mark’. With this self-certification-based label, Solar Power Europe acknowledges the importance of O&M within the solar business case, and the value of it for all stakeholders.

As part of the task force developing this new standard, Autarco is now using its experience to move the industry forward. With our unique kWh guarantee, like no other we know the importance of proper maintenance in order to ayour return of investment. A well designed and installed PV system with high quality products is not the complete story, only with a proper O&M contract in place you will be certain to get the best possible ROI over the complete lifespan. As our industry matures, the install-and-forget mentality we still see too often should not longer be accepted. Not by investors and system owners, nor by installers. This is one of the reasons why Autarco updated its kWh guarantee policy. By doing so, we acknowledge the importance of good O&M and high quality asset management, and respect both the owner’s and the installer’s time and effort. From now on, we are able to offer higher guaranteed and insured yields for utility scale installations, when a proper O&M contract is in place.

www.solarmaintenancemark.com


Fluidwell now benefits from kWh guarantee

In April 2018, our partner Solevo installed a 72.9kWp commercial rooftop system for Fluidwell in Veghel. Solevo advises both home owners and companies on how to save on energy and make their indoor climate more comfortable. Solar energy is one of their specialisations.

Fluidwell specialises in high tech measuring equipment and displays, and with the Autarco kWh guarantee they know exactly what to expect from their PV system. Clearly visible from the nearby A50 highway, the 270 Autarco modules in this installation take a great part in making the company’s energy use more sustainable. Because of the tower next to the roof on which the modules are installed, wind pressure can reach high values here. The symmetrical mounting systems makes for a lightweight system that can withstand these forces, without exceeding the load bearing capacities of the steel roof.

Guaranteed value

EUR 80,000

System size

73kWp

Solar panel

PC Series

Inverter

XLX Series

Mounting

Matrix Mounting

Dealer

Solevo

“Choosing for Autarco was very attractive for my client, because of the kWh guarantee he is sure to get the most out of his 15 year subsidy, without any uncertainties.”

Jan van Herpt – Solevo BV


kWh Face Off! East-West Vs South

Every time a commercial flat roof PV system is designed a decision to build facing South or East-West must be made. While everyone knows European solar systems will perform best facing South with a decent sized pitch, there are a number of other factors at play that influence the most profitable solution for a commercial PV system owner.

Many analyses of East-West vs South facing PV systems for commercial projects still focus on year 1 costs (price per Wp) and estimated production. In the same way that we offer a kWh Guarantee that offers reduced risk and simplicity to installers and system owners, we believe the East-West vs South question is best considered looking at the returns on investment and the levelized cost of energy. After all, solar PV customers are not looking to solve a one-off component hardware problem priced in EUR/W, they are looking for a long term energy solution.

This long term energy solution needs to consider the total costs related to the yield of a system for its complete lifespan and of course the risk related to the solar production over the same lifespan. So what are the expected returns of a solar system?

Comparison.


Let’s look at an example where we compare both alternatives for a reasonably sized commercial project in the Netherlands. We cover some of the assumptions we have made in detail below.

Over the 15 year life of the Dutch SDE+ subsidy, the system owner can generate nearly 20% more profit with an East-West system at a slightly higher return on investment. While a south facing system in the Netherlands does produce nearly 7% more yield per Wp, this power is more costly given the current solar economics of 2018.

Azimuth Annual yield per kWp (kWh/kWp) Annual yield per m² (kWh/m²) Annual savings (€) Cost of energy produced over 15yrs (€/kWh) ProjectIRR *
East-West 934 127 20,443 0.059 19.30%
South 997 100 16,000 0.076 17.20%

*IRR excludes any fiscal/tax benefits

Autarco’s insured kWh Guarantee lowers the risk profile of the project for the bank, helping system owners and investors unlock more debt at lower costs. As a result, the additional initial investment required for an East-West system should not be a barrier to completion.

The drivers behind this result and some of the key factors to consider are discussed below. Regardless of the choice, Autarco’s kWh Guarantee, insured by Lloyd’s of London, delivers peace of mind to both installers and end customers by providing a minimum production level that protects your investment.

Yield per wattpeak.


Assumption: Face Off result
Base Assumption: 10/12 degrees Win for South. 7.3% more yield/Wp.
Factor: Greater module pitches A 30 degree pitch south system will produce 13% more than a 10 degree pitch East-West system.

As we all know, the yield per modules it at its best when the module is facing South. However, since the pitch of the solar panels in flat roof mounting systems is relatively low (10°-12°), the non optimal azimuth of East-West systems are more than compensated by other benefits.

Yield per m².


Assumption: Face Off result
Base Assumption: 10/12 degrees Win for East-West. 22.5% more yield/m².
Factor: Spacing of South facing Can reduce difference to around 8% if weight is not an issue.

The yield per module might be a little less in East-West facing systems, the total number of installed modules outweighs this, leading to much better total yields per m² roof surface. This difference can be as much as 25%, so symmetrical systems are the way to go when roof surface is limited.

Impact of increasing pitch and reducing row spacing of South facing systems is offset by other issues such as shading and ballast requirements.

Yield distribution.


Assumption: Face Off result
Base Assumption: Low module pitch (10-15) Marginal win for East-West
Factor: Greater module pitches Makes East-West more competitive by increasing self consumption.

Another supposed advantage of symmetrical systems that is widely published is the distribution of yield over the day. Where a South facing system has a clear peak around noon, with solar panels facing East and West the yield is more evenly spread out. This results in a more steady production of kWh and a better match to the actual energy usage. However, the most common flat roof structures use a pitch between 10-15 degrees, so this advantage is really quite negligible as shown below.

Because of the difference in azimuth, yield distribution differs over the course of a day.

Shade.


Assumption: Face Off result
Base Assumption: No Shade Win for East-West
Factor: Morning or evening shade Makes South more competitive. Morning or evening shade will result in greater shade losses for East-West facing modules

When the modules are directly facing the sun they experience higher plane-of-array insolation – the amount of direct and indirect sunlight hitting the surface of the solar panel – which of course leads to higher yields. Since most shading occurs during sunrise and sunset, the general influence of shade is worse for symmetrical systems. Common rooftop obstacles such as air conditioning units and sky lights are easily capable of causing 5-10% shade losses for East-West systems if the PV array does not avoid appropriately and plan stringing accordingly.

The Autarco modelling software is designed to make exact shading calculations, making it possible to compare both alternatives on any given location.

With modules facing south, there is a small amount of self-shading from one row to the next.

Mounting costs and ballast.


Assumption: Face Off result
Base Assumption: 10m roof height. Clear win for East-West
Factor: Roof height or increase module pitch. The higher roofs and greater pitches strengthen the East-West advantage.

With a symmetrical (East-West) system, you make the most efficient use of the mounting system. Since there is hardly any space between the modules, there is no redundant mounting to be installed. Due to its nature of back to back modules, a symmetrical system is less influenced by wind loads. They form a closed system within itself, without the need to provide wind deflectors like South facing modules would need. You can save up to 15% on the costs for mounting when using a East-West facing system.

Apart from using less material per installed module, it saves on the need for ballast as well. This saves costs and labor, but more important, it lowers the total weight of a system, especially for roofs above 10 metres height. This can play an important role in the decision, mostly for industrial buildings where load bearing capacity of existing structures can be limited.

AC connection and other fixed costs.


Projects that have high fixed costs regardless of total system size also favour East-West systems. These could include things like;

  • Grid connections
  • Crane fees / scaffolding

Conclusion.


We hope you found this analysis interesting and useful. We are committed to making solar simpler and less risky for installers and owners of commercial PV systems.  If you have any questions about how to choose the best solution for your project, please contact us.


Housing designed for net zero energy

Early 2018, our partner Earth & Eternity completed fourteen net zero energy houses in the town of Valkenswaard. Combined with a number of other technical features, Autarco PV systems with kWh guarantee make sure every house meets the requirements for the net zero energy label to be approved. This project marks the start of the further cooperation between Earth & Eternity and Autarco.

Guaranteed value

EUR 85,000

System size

126kWp

Solar panel

MC Series

Inverter

LX Series

Mounting

Apex Mounting

Dealer

Earth & Eternity

Designed with solar energy in mind.


Net zero energy has always been the goal for these houses, right from the very first sketches of the architect. Because solar modules were on the table so early in the process, the architectural design could be adapted to make sure the PV systems work as efficient as possible. The houses therefore all have a single shed roof facing south, which is free from obstacles.

The houses are topped with steel roofing, that is covered completely by solar modules. With these two materials working together, a good solution for building integrated photovoltaïcs has been installed here. The actual roofing material can be cheaper because it is not in sight, and the modules can be installed on a standard mounting system with rails and clamps. This is much more efficient than complex integrated systems, both in purchasing and in installing. Also, it makes sure the modules have enough ventilation, so yield will not be affected negatively in high temperatures.

All in all, designing the PV system together with the houses not only means the system owners get the maximum possible yield from their solar modules, it is efficient to install and it looks much better too!

It takes an integrated system to achieve net zero energy.


The roofs of these semi detached and terraced houses are completely covered in Autarco MC280B modules, with an average total power of 8,4 kWp per house. This number differs between the various houses, depending on their specific energy demands. Each house is equipped with an Autarco LX10000 three-phase inverter, that is monitored by means of a LAN-stick. This way, both Earth & Eternity and their customers have insight in the performances of the PV systems. Each house also has two solar collectors from HR Solar, that provide warm water, and by doing so reducing energy demand. Because of the size of these collectors, they could be installed together with the solar modules, in order to create an integrated solution.

Apart from solar energy, these houses have a number of other technical features to meet net zero energy requirements. With it, these houses are real forerunners, since net zero energy is not required according to the building code in the Netherlands until 2020. To limit the demand for energy, the houses have high quality outer walls, with high isolation values (RC 6,5) and triple glass (HR+++). By using a steel construction frame, the houses can be partly prefabricated, and thus be built very efficiently. The applied finishes are innovative and sustainable, with low maintenance. All these design solutions and technical features make for affordable net zero energy housing, which in the end was the goal for this project.

“We are very enthusiastic about our cooperation with Autarco. We were able to move quickly and were well supported with the questions we had.”

Oscar Wyns – Manager Operations Earth & Eternity

The beginning of a partnership.


Because of the strict demands for the PV systems in their project, most importantly the guarantees on the yields of the systems, Earth & Eternity was looking for a reliable partner, that was able to deliver these PV systems, composed out of high quality products against a favorable price. Autarco’s proposition fitted very well here and we are proud to have been involved in this project. Earth & Eternity is currently working on a number of different projects for energy efficient and net zero energy housing, both apartment blocks and family homes will be realized in the near future. To be able to extend their portfolio, Earth & Eternity is looking for contractors and installation companies to support them in building these innovative projects.


Sunny February

At Autarco, we continuously monitor solar irradiation levels for locations where our PV systems are installed. By doing so, we are able to analyze whether the yields of these systems are as expected and all components work as they should. The collected data leads to interesting results when comparing one year with another or looking for differences between various locations around the globe.

It’s not uncommon that a months irradiation levels may change from year to year by up to 20%. This is one more reason an intelligent monitoring system that tracks your systems actual performance against actual weather conditions is so important.

See how Autarco can offer you this here.

Last winter was quite dark...


For example in the Netherlands, irradiance levels last December and January have been lower than the long term average. On top of that, snowfall led to small decreases in yield, mostly for flat-roof systems. However, since average yields in these winter months account for only a small part of the yearly total, the impact of an incidental snow cover is minimal. The Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI) measured that the number of sun hours in December and January were both far below average, this had a big influence on irradiation levels in this period, as we saw in our satellite data as well. The winter months were truly dark this year!

... but February made up for it!


Fortunately, February 2018 showed an entirely different image. Sun hours are far above average values, even so that it is the second highest number since the KNMI start monitoring these data back in 1909. On our satellite data we see this resulting in irradiation levels that are indeed above average, up to 30%, depending on the location within the Netherlands. Together with the low temperatures and the days lengthening again, this boosts the overall performance of PV systems, resulting in good yields for this time of the year.