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Duffin Associates

Duffin Associates are developing a new solar PV tracker to maximise efficient generation of solar panels

The Project

Since 2005 Duffin Associates Limited (DAL) has brought together small teams of specialists with low carbon experience to deliver specific project needs.  DAL’s experience is in the field of commercialising low-carbon technologies acting in a variety of roles for stakeholders including government, Carbon Trust, renewable energy developers and banks.

Tony Duffin had been working in this field for a long time (where he came across the OxFutures programme) and had spent the best part of three years wondering why a more affordable solar panel that moves with the direction of the sun wasn’t on the market.

To increase generation from a solar pv panel, an array can be mounted on a framework which follows the sun -a ‘tracker’. Tracker systems exist but have almost no market penetration in the UK, due to increased complexity and cost. This project aims to develop a patented, simplified tracker into a commercial design offering a lower cost of energy.  This would materially reduce carbons emissions by increasing PV generation per kw installed.

There a very few trackers operating in UK/Northern Europe and so the main competition for a new tracker is the dominant incumbent fixed array. Commercial analysis by Calleva demonstrates that existing trackers are uneconomic; are not all consented for UK wind speeds; and are significantly more complex to operate. Whilst there is therefore an appetite for trackers, they need to improve net project returns and limit operations and maintenance complexity.

In 2017, querying the lack of tracker penetration in the UK market, DAL asked Corrie Energy Partners (CEP) to model the breakeven cost for an economic tracker. DAL then sought a solution that also minimised the operational complexity. Technoeconomic work to date indicates that there is a design envelope which would meet the market need. However, the net cost/benefit will be critical to persuading developers to switch from existing, low maintenance, fixed arrays. Prototypes were initially made with cardboard cut-cut outs.

The design moved forward, and DAL developed the project by reverse-engineering the tracking problem and developed a novel and simplified, 2-axis PV tracking system. A working scale prototype was refined in laboratory testing and initial unit costing confirmed that it should meet the economic criteria. A patent application was filed on 28/11/18. This innovation could materially change the PV market and save carbon by increasing the capacity of ground-mounted solar PV installed in a subsidy-free market; and importantly increase the daily generation profile of a PV array.

The existing patent application offers IP protection against competition, but rapid development is at least as important as many potential competitors exist.

Realising more funding was needed to move the project to the next level Tony reached out to OxFutures and applied for an innovation grant. Writing the grant application proved an especially useful, evaluative process as lots of grants are competitive and it enabled objectives to be clarified and number to be finalised.

OxFutures had a really clear, targeted market brief which meant I had to be specific about project goals and the financial aspects of the project. Being able to talk through the process and get feedback from Alison was great. Overall, it was an extremely valuable process.

Tony Duffin
Duffin Associates
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