With NEXTracker, Flex aims for the top in Brazil's PV market

Flex is aiming to use its purchase of US manufacturer NEXTracker to grab a 30-50% share of the solar tracker segment in Brazil's 1GW-a-year PV market.

The Singapore-based industrial group – formerly know as Flextronics – also plans to sell modules and inverters.

“We want to offer the full range of products for the market in Brazil, and talks with companies for producing modules and inverters are ongoing,” Nelson Falcão, Flex's local energy business development director, tells Recharge.

Flextronics, which specialises in setting up manufacturing and distribution services for third parties throughout the world, bought control in September of NEXTracker, which already has a presence in Chile (its biggest regional market, with 140MW of projects supplied), Uruguay, Panama, Peru and, from 2016, Brazil.

By next year, NEXTracker plans to start assembling enough tracking devices in Brazil to furnish 100MW of solar plants a year in a new assembly line at Flex's factory in São Paulo state, where it already produces electronic components for other companies. By then, it expects to have been accredited under the local-content rules of the national development bank, BNDES, says Falcão, enabling developers to source preferential financing.

“It's cheaper to import than to produce in Brazil, but, for developers, access to cheap, long-term financing is important,” he adds.

All steel tubes and steel plates will be supplied by a local firm, with  the control system imported from a global supplier, a mix that will guarantee 60% of national content.

Part of the production will be taken up by SunEdison for 159.5MW of the six PV plants that sold power in the past two auctions through a 50-50 partnership with local developer Renova. SunEdison signed a global supply agreement with NEXTracker in June.

Aside from SunEdison, Falcão is in talks with three or four other auction winners.

Up to now, the number of ground-mounted, utility-scale plants with tracking devices has vastly outnumbered the number of fixed ground-mounted arrays in Brazil. Of the 30 projects that sold power at this year's auction, 26 plan to use tracking devices.

NEXTracker will be competing with Spain's Soltec and France's Exosun, which have announced plans to assemble and sell solar tracking devices in Brazil.

“Brazil is perfectly placed to make the best use of solar tracking because most of its land area is located close to equator, where the sun's movements are broader compared to more temperate areas in the northern hemisphere,” says Jesus Prado, NEXTracker's international sales manager.

At two federal auctions since last year and one regional auction in 2013, Brazil has contracted about 1.7GW of solar that has to be operational by 2017. With annual auctions scheduled, industry players expect around 1GW a year to be contracted, in line with a government projection of 7GW of utility-scale solar by 2024.

NEXTracker says it can lead the market, since tracking devices in Brazil increase efficiency of panels by 20-25%, with a 120-degree rotation and self-power production system, raising efficiency by 1-1.5% compared with more traditional tracking systems, says NEXTracker chief commercial officer Marco Garcia, adding: The total EPC cost is 10% more than for fixed... systems, but the efficiency outscores the higher price.”

In the coming months, the company expects to sign contracts to supply 500-700MW of projects in Chile.