Renewable energies have enormous development potential. Technological innovation, the search for profitability of raw materials, favourable government policies and the ever-increasing environmental awareness of the people will support the sustained growth of renewables in the coming years. But they will also determine the evolution of the different installations in the future, an evolution that will be experienced especially by large photovoltaic (PV) plants due to their important role in the energy transition.
Global solar capacity increased to 900GW in 2021, approaching the terawatt (TW) expected to be reached in 2022. This unstoppable growth can be seen in the proliferation of photovoltaic plants around the world and in the new markets that appear as an opportunity for companies in the sector. SolarPower Europe’s ‘Global Market Outlook’ report stated that one out of every three power plants installed in 2020 was a photovoltaic installation.
However, the economic crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected material prices and logistics, and which has continued with the energy crisis due to the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe, is forcing the emergence of new solutions to advance the energy transition with maximum cost-effectiveness.
In the case of large-scale PV plants, these new trends could be summarised as follows:
1. Widespread use of large modules
The cost-effectiveness of large solar panels has been demonstrated for years, as they allow the power output to be increased and make maximum use of the space available in the installation. The main problem with these modules was their instability under adverse atmospheric conditions, a drawback that has been overcome by the latest generation of solar trackers, as well as by technological applications that anticipate defence movements.
The widespread use of large panels has also been made possible by the lower cost of the final product in the last decade. Moreover, experimentation with new materials could limit dependence on certain resources and open up the manufacturing now monopolised by China to other areas such as the US, Europe and India.
2. Algorithms and artificial intelligence to control plants
Technology has enabled enormous advances in the operation of a solar installation, from the work of solar trackers to adapt the position of the modules according to weather conditions and the movement of the sun, to the monitoring of storage systems to regulate the transfer of energy to the grid. This progress has been possible thanks to large companies such as Gransolar Group investing in their R&D&I departments to find new solutions and improve existing products with rigorous efficiency tests in extreme situations.
3. Widespread use of storage
Large-scale photovoltaic plants are becoming increasingly complex and, significantly, include energy storage systems to mitigate the irregular flow of renewables and regulate the power fed into the grid according to specific circumstances. In this sense, the future will be characterised by using more efficient materials such as vanadium, and by the hybridisation of batteries with different energy sources, in addition to the search for increasingly sustainable and recyclable materials.
4. Simplification of O&M tasks
Technological advances and the accumulated experience of leading companies in the sector, which are already relevant to the efficiency of maintenance work on a photovoltaic plant, will play an increasingly important role. The possibility of monitoring an installation remotely and always knowing what factors can affect its performance through technology will make it possible to build in increasingly remote and difficult-to-access areas.
5. Environmental awareness and more recyclable materials
The commitment of companies to sustainability and the added value provided by the link to the energy transition invite potential investors to participate in photovoltaic projects. This environmental awareness is also particularly relevant in the case of the people who are increasingly aware of the advantages of this type of installation, and the use of solar energy to the detriment of polluting energies. This process is accompanied by the search for more recyclable and environmentally friendly materials in the construction of the different elements of a plant.
6. Institutional boost to the decarbonisation of the planet
The public aid and subsidy programmes for renewable energies will stimulate the appearance of large parks, according to the report ‘The Future of Photovoltaic Solar Energy’, by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). These could avoid the emission of up to 4.9 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, the year in which the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow in 2021, has proposed to reach the zero emissions goal.