NEXTracker Software: Enabling Solar Power Plants at Scale with Data and Intelligent Systems

By on May 10, 2017

NEXTracker customers are smart. They know that our trackers are much more than “just some steel” to hold up their panels and point them at the sun—those trackers are sophisticated electrical/mechanical systems that function in an integrated, reliable and elegant manner. They also understand that our trackers are connected, that each tracker is part of a secure bidirectional wireless data communication network that allows them to both talk to each other and also share information with other systems and plant controllers.

What our customers may not know is our vision to leverage this powerful cloud-based data platform by adding in new applications and intelligence to make solar power plants manageable and optimized, no matter how large they become. I’m extremely proud of the work my software team is tackling and the investments NEXTracker is making to help enable our customers’ amazing growth.

Accomplishing this vision is made possible first and foremost by using our data platform to continuously monitor the health and performance of both our individual tracker components and overall system operation. We automatically pull and examine data from each of our trackers, all over the world, every 5 minutes. This is not a “big data” story—it’s a “smart data” story. Through the carefully integrated in-house design of our controller hardware, firmware, software and drive systems, we pick out the right points to publish, monitor and analyze. This clever approach allows us to keep cost and complexity low while still delivering full value to operators and owners. As solar plants become larger and more numerous, we believe this smart, detailed, tireless assistance will be invaluable to our customers.

The NEXTracker Software Team is constantly working side by side with product engineers and construction engineers to find ways to improve system performance.

Beyond monitoring and diagnostics, we are developing the NEXTracker hardware and software ecosystem to include products and services that continually look for opportunities to improve systems performance by employing machine learning, predictive modeling and other technologies. These approaches use accumulated data sets and advanced techniques to explore innovative control approaches and drive product enhancements. When ready for primetime, firmware upgrades will be delivered over-the-air via the same bidirectional cloud-based data platform to upgrade entire fleets, no matter the size.

We also believe that high-quality system integration and user interactivity will be required to enable the scale of solar power plants in the near future, and our efforts along these lines can be seen in our current work with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. We are evolving our interfaces—both human and machine—to be more transparent, more accessible, and more secure. With the right views provided in the right places, we want to make operations and maintenance more proactive and efficient, to simplify plant management, and to reduce operational costs.

We are not alone in this work. The NEXTracker software ecosystem is a part of an even larger infrastructure—the “Connected Intelligence” platform provided by Flex. Our parent company’s industrial-quality, NERC-CIP compliant, bidirectional data pipeline acts as the “plumbing” we use to send data back and forth in a secure, reliable way between our servers and solar power plants all over the world. We’re able to leverage Flex’s experience, knowledge, and investment to deliver this high-quality, high-reliability software solution to our customers at a very low cost and at massive scale.

As solar power plants grow larger, more numerous, and more valuable, we see a future where our tracker systems will deliver more value to fully support our customers and the challenges they will face. We firmly believe that intelligent connected systems will be a critical ingredient in the mix that makes the future massive scale of solar possible, and we are working hard to build those systems today so we will be ready for tomorrow.