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LONGi, Nextracker tailor solar tech for Canadian winters

Snow melting, solar trackers help adapt hardware for Canada's harsh climate

Nextracker has adapted its products for Canada's winters, equipping its trackers with ways to dust off snow and protect against hail. (Courtesy Nextracker)

San Ramon, Calif.-based LONGi North America and Fremont, Calif.-headquartered Nextracker are solar companies pursuing a path of particular interest to the Canadian market: how to adapt their technologies to our severe winters.

They spoke to SustainableBiz ahead of this week's Global Energy Show in Calgary about their positive outlook for Canada's rising solar industry.

LONGi is a photovoltaics company that began operating in Canada in 2019. It is one of the world’s largest solar wafer shippers with 46 gigawatts of solar panels shipped globally in 2022, according to CJ Fu, director of product solutions for LONGi North America.

Nextracker, with operations in Calgary and Toronto, develops single-axis tracker solutions for utility-scale solar projects. Its hardware is used in 74 gigawatts of global solar deployments, Sol Hutson, Nextracker’s senior vice-president of business and corporate development, said.

Executives from both companies outlined how they're working to remove impediments to solar energy caused by Canada’s long and snowy winters. With new federal and provincial incentives, they also expressed Canada is maturing into a strong market for solar power.

Hutson, who spoke from Victoria, B.C, said Nextracker is “excited by where the market is, where the opportunity is, the economic growth and investment that’s happening.”

Bringing solar to the Great White North

LONGi arrived in Calgary to present its latest module that accommodates Canadian winters: the Hi-MO 7.

A company release touts the Hi-MO 7 as a module with a power output of up to 580 watts and a conversion efficiency of 22.5 per cent. The conversion efficiency is a boon for reliability in challenging weather conditions.

“In Canada we do see extreme weather in the winter time. We see winter storms, snow storms,” Fu noted.

Hi-MO 7 addresses these conditions by using electricity to melt snow on the solar panel. An aluminum alloy frame can withstand heavy wind pressure and a snowload of up to 6,000 pascals.

Fu said its efficiency can reduce the levelized cost of electricity (the average net cost of electricity generation over a lifetime) by three to four per cent. This makes it ideal for large-scale solar farms.

Though Nextracker did not have new products to demonstrate at the Global Energy Show, Hutson said his company also has solutions for the obstacles posed by Canadian winters.

Solar trackers are devices that orient solar panels toward the movement of the sun to maximize energy gains. Nextracker’s solar trackers can increase a panel’s energy production by up to 25 per cent, Hutson said.

Nextracker’s products are tailored according to extreme weather, temperature and wind to support operations in cold climates. A snow shedding feature will automatically or manually order a tracker to dust off snow through rotating movements. If a hail storm is incoming, a plant operator can direct the solar panels to stow away in a protective position.

“Up and into the right” in Canada

Nextracker and LONGi adjusting their products for the Canadian market is a reflection of their optimism for the country’s solar business.

“The quick phrase is ‘Up and into the right,’” Hutson quipped, referring to the line businesses want to see on their growth charts. The investment tax credit into renewable energy from Canada's fall economic statement will help expand the utility-scale solar market, he said, and accelerate the market for utility-scale projects.

Nextracker is nearing one gigawatt of under-construction and installed projects in Canada.

Tony Hu, LONGi’s sales and business development manager for Canada, mirrored Hutson’s remarks, saying LONGi’s residential and commercial rooftop business benefits from the investment tax credit. “Massive growth” in commercial projects, especially rooftop solar, is expected over the next two years, Hu said.

Growth is holding steady even in through traditionally slow seasons like the winter.

LONGi is seeing more American, European and domestic investors flock to the Canadian market. Alberta is a particular hot spot because of its deregulated energy market and support from the oil and gas stalwarts seeking a transition into the broader energy field.

The renaming of the Global Energy Show from the Global Petroleum Show epitomizes this shift, Hu said.

Oil and gas players like Shell, TC Energy and TransAlta are “coming to play” by building their first renewable energy projects and creating long-term plans to reduce emissions. Hu foresees the utility-scale renewables market growing by two to three gigawatts per year over the next two to three years.

Hutson also noted Alberta as a notable centre of growth, particularly Southern Alberta.

Driven by its belief in the Canadian market, Hu said LONGi has a 10-year plan, broken down into five-year targets, with the end goal of attaining the largest market share in Canada.

Hu said LONGi is on track to meet its first five-year mark to create a distribution network, build long-term relationships with strategic customers and promote its brand.

Its second target consists of building a local support team for Canadian customers with an order fulfillment team and dedicated in-country marketing.

“We care about Canadian customers, we care about this market, we want to grow healthy with our customers together,” Hu said.

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