RPCS completes 11 new solar tracker projects in Texas

RP construction services

RP Construction Services (RPCS) just completed 11 solar sites as part of a growing portfolio of projects in Texas for the Pedernales Electric Cooperative. RPCS, responsible for the portfolio’s solar tracker installation, partnered with site developer and global energy firm Renewable Energy Systems (RES) and general contractor Performance Contracting, Inc.

The 11 projects rely on the DuraTrack HZ v3 single axis tracker from Array Technologies. This technology keeps the modules following the sun on its course throughout the day, ensuring up to a 20 to 25 percent increase in energy production over fixed-tilt systems. The sites also feature rigid thin-film solar panels from First Solar, an American photovoltaic manufacturer and provider of utility-scale power solutions. RPCS, Array Technologies’ DG partner, designs and installs single axis solar tracker systems across the country, with hundreds of projects to date in the utility and distributed generation markets.

“We love working for the RES team and are very proud of these projects,” says RPCS Chief Sales Officer Alex Smith. “Having 11 projects underway at one time is one of the things that RPCS does best for portfolio companies, and we are really excited to see all the First Solar panels on top of ATI trackers. It’s the best combination of price and speed of installation, which has al-lowed us to execute these projects so cleanly. The sites turned out beautifully and we’re thrilled for the opportunity to work together with RES and PCI.”

The portfolio of projects utilized decommissioned agricultural land leased from local land owners and was flexibly designed to minimize environmental impacts by requiring no major grading. RPCS trained dozens of Texas locals on the installation over the course of the projects, working alongside the local electricians and general contractor labor. The projects have all been injury-free.

Wes Allen, RPCS Superintendent, says, “We had a lot of fun training the local labor. They under-stood what it meant and what it took to build a quality tracker for the community. Because of the quality of work, we requested some of them travel with us to complete the portfolio in oth-er parts of Texas. I received a lot of positive feedback from the locals, and they really enjoyed working with RPCS and can’t wait to build another project.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Report by TÜV Rheinland explains how Array Technologies trackers drive O&M costs down 37 percent

Array Technologies announced results of an independent analysis by TÜV Rheinland that indicates Array’s flagship tracker, the DuraTrack HZ v3, delivers 4 Cents/Watt DC higher Net Present Value (NPV) and 6.7 percent lower Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), driven by 37 percent lower lifetime O&M costs.

Array Technologies DuraTrack

The analysis found that Array’s architecture has higher structural integrity. With a patented mechanical load-release system, Array’s trackers are less susceptible to torsional galloping and consequential damage to solar modules. The DuraTrack HZ v3 withstands high wind loads in all positions, unlike architectures that rely on active stow and a complicated chain of electronic, radio, and motor systems to survive.

TÜV analysts performed an economic and risk analysis of two tracker architectures: one driven by a single motor linked by a rotating driveline to multiple tracker rows; and another where tracker rows operate as self-contained units, each with a dedicated photovoltaic (PV) panel, battery, motor and other system components. TÜV’s analysis includes descriptions of the technical characteristics of each system, followed by a Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) to determine high-risk components. A cost of failure analysis of those components was performed, concluding with a LCOE / NPV analysis to assess the economic impact of the two technologies on developers, owners, financiers, and insurers of utility scale solar power plants.

“Reliability is the cornerstone of responsible solar industry growth,” said Array Technologies CEO and founder, Ron Corio. “Without dependable PV modules and tracking systems, the solar industry will struggle to continue down its path of innovation and expansion. This third-party validation from TÜV confirms what we have been claiming for nearly 30 years: that the engineered simplicity in our trackers truly is the best long-term option for solar project owners.”

— Solar Builder magazine

TÜV Rheinland study explains reliability of Array Technologies’ Trackers

Array Technologies DuraTrack

Reliability and reduced O&M costs are key metrics when choosing among solar tracking systems. At SPI, TÜV Rheinland reveals an in-depth study of Array Technologies’ DuraTrack HZ v3 that indicates the DuraTrack is “300 × less likely to experience catastrophic failure during wind events than single-row competitors that rely on stow.”

Array Technologies is the main supplier of centralized drive trackers in the industry, which the company maintains allows for a robust design and a unique wind mitigation strategy that avoids module stress, fatigue failure and torsional galloping issues during high stress wind events.

TÜV analysts performed an economic and risk analysis of two tracker architectures: one layout driven by a single motor linked by a rotating driveline to multiple tracker rows; and a competing design where tracker rows operate as self-contained units, each with a dedicated photovoltaic (PV) panel, battery, motor and other system components. TÜV’s analysis includes descriptions of the technical characteristics of each system, followed by a failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) to assess risk associated with component failures, and concluding with a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) / Net Present Value (NPV) analysis to assess the economic impact of the two technologies on developers, owners, financiers, and insurers of utility scale solar power plants.

Vote here for the 2017 Solar Builder Project of the Year

The TÜV report also highlighted the below benefits of Array’s tracking technology:

• 7% lower LCOE (Levelized Cost Of Energy)
• 4.5% higher NPV (Net Present Value)
• 15% lower scheduled O&M cost
• 130 × lower unscheduled O&M cost

“At TÜV Rheinland, we pride ourselves on unbiased and high-quality research and reporting,” said Mark Skidmore, Regional Field Manager, Solar-North America of TÜV Rheinland. “We routinely put technologies across the solar tracker industry through rigourous testing to challenge the industry’s biggest players to go above and beyond with the reliability of their designs. Together, we can sustainably grow the global solar tracking market.”

— Solar Builder magazine

The Ultimate SPI Showcase: Here’s what to see at Solar Power International 2017

Big leap for microinverters

APsystems SPI

APsystems will unveil the YC600, a dual-module, smart grid and Rule 21 compliant microinverter at SPI in Las Vegas. A groundbreaking design in microinverter technology, the YC600 will offer the highest peak output power, faster transmission speed and more modules allowed per string than comparable microinverters. A wider MPPT voltage range will result in a greater energy harvest for homeowners.

You’ll want to get the full scoop at booth 1745.

Streamlined Shutdown

Fronius

Fronius is launching a new generation of its Rapid Shutdown Box, which the company says will be the most convenient solution for NEC 2014 (690.12) and NEC 2017 compliance, while enhancing overall rooftop and firefighter safety. The new generation includes two versions: the Fronius Rapid Shutdown Box Duo and Quattro.
“Based on customer feedback, we implemented many improvements into this new generation of our Rapid Shutdown Box,” says Michael Mendik, head of solution management at Fronius USA.

Directly connected to the inverter through the same conduit as the DC homeruns and powered by the array, the Fronius solution minimizes the number of components and eliminates the need for an external power supply. The low-profile design and the multiple mounting options allow for installation underneath the modules, ensuring a clean system look. In addition, the NEMA 4X rating ensures the box is built for severe outdoor conditions. MC4 connectors, spring-loaded terminals and generous wiring space make the wiring a breeze. The Rapid Shutdown Box also acts as a combiner box, removing the need for additional hardware. Booth 3943.

Lightweight, flexible power conversion

Ideal Power

Ideal Power invented a new kind of power conversion architecture that delivers on flexibility, allowing you to enable or disable any features depending on project needs. At SPI, check out its 30-kW Stabiliti Series power converters. These multiport, compact converters are smaller, lighter and dramatically reduce installation costs while increasing return on investment. Ideal Power recently partnered with NEXTracker to implement it in various PV sites throughout North America. Booth 1433.

A top rail clip to rule them all

Heyco solar rail clips

Heyco has been busy this summer, introducing several new clips and wire management accessories for the solar market. Newest to the lineup are the SunRunner 4-2 and SunRunner 4-2U, which are top rail clips for various racking manufacturers such as Unirac, Ironridge, Everest, SnapNRack, Solar Mount and other similar racking profiles. The SunRunner 4-2 and SunRunner 4-2U are suitable for the new Enphase Q Cable. At the booth, you can also enter for a chance to win a Google Home. Booth 4762.

Drive down carport costs

Baja Carports InterSolar 2017 Booth Models

Baja Construction always has a standout booth, and this year its in-house construction team will be installing its signature Baja Solar Support System design, the “Braced Single Post Support,” built with high-tensile light gauge steel to support 24 solar modules (7.8 kW). Included in the structure is an EV Station for the hot red Tesla parked underneath. Meet Baja’s in-house designers, engineers and project managers and also make certain to visit Baja’s sponsored lobby lounge for food and beverages. I’m sure you’re already there. Booth 4155.

Improve your grip strength

Ace Clamp solar mount
AceClamps are factory-assembled clamps with patented design features that allow strong connections to standing-seam roof panels without the use of set screws or any other loose parts that could damage the surface of the roof panel. AceClamp designs have been vibration tested during the development stage and incorporate special locking features to ensure that the bolts do not back out when subjected to vibratory loads from wind flutter and light seismic activity. Booth 809.

OMG Roofing solar mount

OMG Roofing Products has introduced PowerGrip Universal for mounting solar racking systems on commercial roofs. PowerGrip Universal is designed to reduce or eliminate ballast in solar racking systems, so there’s less weight, material handling and labor on the roof. Made of heavy-duty cast aluminum, PowerGrip Universal offers 3,300 lbf of tensile strength, 2,500 lbf of shear strength and 2,000 lbf of compressive strength. It’s one of the strongest anchors on the market. Booth 629.

Solar Connections

The Standing Seam Power Clamp from Solar Connections can attach to virtually any standing seam profile and draws its strength from patent-pending WaveLock Technology with optional two, three and five points of attachment. The top can be custom drilled and tapped to fit any bolt configuration. Offering ease of installation, the Silver Bullet set screws include a rounded bullet tip to maximize strength while also keeping the paint finish and seam free from harm. Additionally, the Standing Seam Power Clamp is available in standard mill finish aluminum material, making it an item you can easily keep in stock when the need arises. Booth 1569.

Reinventing the ground mount

Nuance Energy

Nuance Energy’s patent-pending Osprey PowerPlatform could revolutionize ground-mounted solar projects. This earth anchor foundation system satisfies permitting requirements for virtually any site and soil type without the need for geotechnical reports or special inspections. It eliminates the need for heavy equipment or cement by enabling small, unskilled crews to install the entire platform quickly and easily using only handheld tools. Booth 2108.

Meet the 4G platform

Ginlong Solis inverter

Ginlong Technologies is now shipping its Solis 4G Platform. What you can see at SPI this year in booth 2427 is the Solis-1P(2.5-10K)-4G-US single phase string inverters, with high switching frequency; 2, 3 and 4 MPPTs designs; 97.8 percent peak efficiency (97.5 percent CEC); fan-less NEMA 4X / IP65 design, integrated AFCI; web-based and smartphone app monitoring, all under 44 lbs. The Solis 25K-66K-US three phase inverters are designed for all commercial and utility-scale installations with four MPPT designs and ultra-low start up volume that maximizes energy harvest. Booth 2427.

Five trackers to, um, track

SunLink TTD

SunLink’s TechTrack enables efficient load redistribution and allows the system to handle extreme wind with less steel, fewer foundations and lower cost. Now, TechTrack’s intelligent control system also delivers equally responsive control modes for snow, flood and O&M. The result is system level benefits, visible in SunLink’s Vertex data monitoring system. Rigorous testing to UL3703 further reduces permitting risk. Booth 3319.

Soltec

SF7 is the next-generation horizontal single-axis solar PV tracker from Soltec. Soltec says the SF7 enables up to 5 percent greater MW per acre than other trackers and does that with 54 percent fewer piles-per-MW, 15 percent less parts count and 58 percent fewer screw type connections than leading competitors. SF7 standard features include short tracker site-filling options, unique steep-slope tolerance of 17 percent NS, efficient self-powering and innovative cable management solutions for combining, fusing and protecting PV source circuits more economically. Booth 3640.

Solar FlexRack TDP 2 Turnkey Solar Tracker_2017

Solar FlexRack is launching its TDP Tracker with a new BalanceTrac design to increase energy yield and reduce balance of system costs. This TDP 2.0 Solar Tracker with BalanceTrac, optimized for 1,000- and 1,500-V modules, has greater rotational range of up to 120° and enables more modules per row (up to 90). The robust design delivers autonomous tables that increase site flexibility to maximize land use. Booth 2538.

AllEarth Renewable

AllEarth Renewables is showing off its new Gen 4 tracker which will be self-powered, to guard against the grid going down and will have expanded communication options, such as Wi-Fi, cellular and SD card enabled. It will come as a complete, pre-engineered system for easy, efficient shipping. Booth 626.

Array Technologies

Array Technologies is revealing the results of a recent TÜV Rheinland-backed independent report focused on solar tracker reliability. Array’s latest single-axis tracker, the DuraTrack HZ v3, is often touted for its reliability and lower cost of ownership. Array says DuraTrack HZ v3 is proven to be 300x less likely to experience catastrophic failure during wind events than more stow-reliant, single-row competitors. Booth 2919.

Page two has new on big-time collaborations, products for boosting performance, installing on shingles and more.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar tracking system advances: What’s the impact over the life of a PV plant?

Solar tracker photo 1

The goal of a solar tracking system is to boost the lifetime energy production of a given site, somewhere between 20 to 30 percent over a 30-year period. But this is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” proposition. Today’s tracker systems are more advanced than ever before, but they require an operations and maintenance (O&M) plan that’s just as sophisticated, if not more.

“The performance analytics of a site will become increasingly defined by O&M activities over a longer time span, as costs associated with system failure and maintenance, labor and transport are compounded,” says Denise Hugo, director of marketing with Array Technologies Inc.

If your O&M planning starts after the project is in the ground, which can happen with today’s time pressures, it is already too late. Reliable PV tracker performance starts with specing and designing the right system to match the project.

Intelligent Design

A system is only as good as its ability to exist in its environment. Beyond the obvious structural necessities required of any mounting system, tracking functionality can both improve and further complicate the plan for withstanding the elements. Some improvements are simple, like tilting opposite rows toward each other to clean two dusty rows in one pass. Others come from the sophistication of the software.

“We have seen a trend toward greater reliability in the face of the increasing intensity and frequency of weather events,” Hugo says. Array, for example, incorporated a torsion limiter in its centralized DuraTrack HZ v3, which naturally improves the stability of the system during wind events.

Array Technologies DuraTrack

“When a heavy wind occurs and wind speeds approach record highs, tracking systems can risk catastrophic failure. The best rule of thumb is to design the tracker system to withstand the full site specified wind speeds at any tilt angle, instead of relying on risky stow strategies.”

Separate UPS [uninterruptible power supply] systems proved to be problematic in early tracking days, which inspired tracker manufacturers to integrate backup power into the trackers themselves or eliminate the need for backup power entirely.

Whether a site’s climate patterns evolve over time, or experience a sudden aberrational event, tracking systems can adjust. SunLink says meteorological stations are integral to intelligent tracking systems.

“The data from these stations can be used to meet ongoing financing and operational requirements,” says Kate Trono, VP of products at SunLink.

More Motors or More Maintenance?

But as my cranky mechanic dad would say when car manufacturers would improve anything (like, going from crank windows to power windows), more sophistication can also mean “more stuff that’s going to break.” Trackers need motors and power sources, which introduce additional points of failure. The answer from tracker manufacturers is to minimize as many of those variables as possible, but which variables specifically depends on the approach of the manufacturer.

Array, a leading supplier of centralized drive tracker systems, believes in minimizing the number of motors and other high-maintenance parts that are needed as well as drawing power from the grid instead of relying on batteries.

“We use the minimum amount of electrical components required for control at each motor,” Hugo says. “Simply put, less moving parts make for fewer problems. By removing the number of smaller, less reliable motorized components and condensing this into a flexibly linked centralized single-axis tracker architecture, we have significantly improved uptime and dramatically lowered O&M costs.”

Movement is also taxing on all of a system’s components, and maintaining hardware is tedious and costly. Some tracker systems may require crews to regularly check the torque on screws or lubricate joints, which can add thousands of hours to an annual O&M budget. NEXTracker, currently the market share leader in global tracker deployments according to GTM Research, says a key in minimizing maintenance needs here is valuing mechanical tension over torqueing.

“Torqueing is by nature inexact because of the many factors that can affect friction — from surface texture to debris, rust and humidity,” says Dan Shugar, CEO of NEXTracker. “By contrast, tension involves the use of hydraulic tools to stretch screws and swage or fasten bolts to a structure. In fact, the swaging of a lockbolt is five times stronger than its nut-and-bolt counterpart fastening system. Regular nuts and bolts have a gap, which can cause loosening by vibration. System hardware that does not require torqueing but instead relies on the tension between components will reduce the need for manual checks.”

Shugar believes the key question to ask when evaluating single-axis trackers is this: Could the failure of any individual hardware component threaten the system’s overall production?

“In the case of a decentralized SAT, for example, each row’s independent motor is powered by its own dedicated solar panel (with integrated battery backup), making external power cables obsolete. This reduces the risk of asset downtime since each row is essentially its own independent system. Having advanced individual, self-powered motors control each row increases the overall resiliency of the solar plant by eliminating the risk of malfunctions that can lead to downtime for a larger portion of the installed capacity.”

Trono says decentralized trackers have gained momentum because they are actually simpler to maintain. Downtime is also minimized by holding spares, which is made possible by highly modular systems.

“No special tools or expertise is required to swap out a motor, for example, and it’s not necessary to take an entire linked-row tracker offline,” she says.

Distributed trackers also streamline engineering between the EPC and the mounting system provider, which can result in meaningful savings in soft costs.

“Consider how self-powered, wireless systems eliminate the back and forth and inevitable drawing revisions concerning connection points, conduit, etc. to each tracker,” Trono says. “Furthermore, since each tracker row is independent, they’re easy to add and remove from a layout. Changes to inverter locations and access roads stay simple rather than cascading through the layout departments of multiple companies.”

“The appropriate tracker choice, one with robust components and minimized failure points, will guarantee the best performance over time,” Hugo says. “With the increased efficiency of other BOS components, such as the inverters, highly reliable tracked projects can actually incur less total O&M costs compared to fixed-tilt.”

Data is the future

While my dad had a point — that new advances in technology create new issues — what he didn’t see was the extended benefits of improved performance. This is where data changes the game in O&M and the lifetime value of a tracking system. Smart devices and the Internet of Things means even the largest solar plants can be monitored down to the component level.

“Data is essential to deploying O&M resources efficiently,” Trono says. “Row-level tracker intelligence complements other data systems to give a complete picture of system performance.”

SunLink

There are always outlier incidents that require immediate analysis to determine if action is required. Having access to minute-by-minute tracker performance data helps system owners and their O&M partners understand when and where to place maintenance resources to manage assets effectively while keeping down LCOE. The correct course of action, though, can only come from setting up a software and O&M strategy that interprets the data correctly.

“The data that this constant monitoring produces can become overwhelming for system owners,” Shugar says. “To understand the true implications of system issues, an intelligent cloud-based O&M strategy must be developed that weighs the cost of truck rolls against possible impacts to system performance and the value of the energy produced. Just collecting data doesn’t reduce O&M costs. It’s how intelligent tracking systems and asset managers use that data that reduces truck rolls and increases long-term ROI.”

And this is the note to end on because the biggest strides to be made in solar tracker O&M going forward will be made in data and control.

“As an industry, we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to harnessing the power of integrated data and control systems,” Trono says. “Unfortunately, many data systems are siloed because of security concerns or integration challenges. In the future, we will see advanced control systems that can be used to improve the performance and future product design of both tracking and fixed-tilt systems.”

Chris Crowell is managing editor of Solar Builder.


Tracker System Profiles

DuraTrack HZ v3DuraTrack HZ v3

Array Technologies’ tracker architecture is designed to withstand the elements, not to stow. Unlike trackers that rely on active stow to attempt to survive inclement weather, the DuraTrack HZ v3 is designed to reliably handle the full site loads at any tracker angle. Array’s tracker incorporates a mechanical load mitigation system based on a unique torsion limiter gear and redundant mechanical stops. The system is automatic and doesn’t require power backup, wiring, anemometers, controllers or regularly scheduled maintenance to function, which eliminates backup systems, potential failure points and a ton of maintenance.

How does it save time and cost?

Array Technologies’ trackers are designed to deliver the lowest cost of ownership and the highest value, forged from decades of experience. DuraTrack HZ v3’s streamlined design lowers installation and O&M costs. It is built with minimal failure points and zero scheduled maintenance over a 30-year lifespan.

NX Horizon

NX Horizon

Powered by NEXTracker’s self-powered motor drive, each row of the NX Horizon system can now be built with significantly less steel and can be optimized for wider rotation angles. As a result, customers will maximize yield, pay less for O&M and reduce the impact on the environment significantly. NEXTracker designed a mechanically balanced system that has no overturning moment at the core of the NX Horizon tracker. This allows NEXTracker to bring down the number of piers needed for one row of solar panels by up to one third.

How does it save time and cost?

NEXTracker’s NX Horizon tracker needs less steel than conventional trackers, allowing for quicker installation. Customers won’t need drive shafts or extra cabling to power the trackers, speeding the process up even further. NX Horizon is self-grounded, so customers won’t have to pay costs and labor for installing grounding washers, braided straps, bare copper wire and grounding rods. Zero welding is required. NEXTracker’s patented fasteners make mounting the panels quick and easy.

TechTrack DistributedTechTrack Distributed

One of the most popular features of SunLink’s TechTrack Distributed is the balanced row bearing design or “virtual pivot.” The bearings arrive at the jobsite preassembled, and the installation team can quickly and easily bolt the assemblies to the top of the posts. The bearings then form a cradle in which to rest the torque tubes — the heaviest component in the system — during their installation. Plus, at every stage of racking assembly and module installation, the system remains balanced, eliminating the need to take precautions to restrain it from swinging. The most innovative feature of the TechTrack is Dynamic Stabilization. The design utilizes an active, sensor-enabled component to change the damping and stiffness of the structure in response to real-time environmental conditions. This dynamic design dramatically enhances load management and reduces required steel.

How does it save time and cost?

TechTrack Distributed has no gaps at the bearings or splices, which can add up to several feet on each tracker. Instead it enables clean, continuous tables of 90 modules with one small gap at each slew drive. TechTrack Distributed packs more power into a given area, maximizing the potential of the site. In addition to generous installation tolerances and the flexibility of unlinked rows, TechTrack Distributed is designed to contour with North-South changes in grade of up to 2 percent post-to-post. For example, on a site that would have required extensive grading or very long and heavy posts to keep the array flat, TechTrack has enough flexibility built in to eliminate those costs.

— Solar Builder magazine