Intersolar North America Showcase: Here’s what to see at this year’s trade show

APsystems: True three-phrase microinverters

APsystems YC1000

APsystems boasts an industry best-selling 3-phase solar microinverter and the industry’s first true 3-phase (phase-balanced & phase-monitored) unit, the YC1000-3. This model handles 208V or 277Y/480V grid voltages with 900 watts maximum output, 95 percent peak efficiency and comes with ZigBee communication and integrated ground. At 480V up to 11 units (44 modules total, 60- or 72-cell) can be linked in a single 15A circuit, and up to 14 solar modules (7x YC500s) in a string with a 20A breaker. Designed to operate from -40 F to 149 F degrees. Ten and 25-year warranties are available. Booth 9245.

Boviet Solar: Debuting two new solar modules

Boviet Solar

A new 290-W, 60-cell polycrystalline diamond-cut PERC solar module is one of the newest products from Boviet Solar’s full PERC production line completed in 2016. Also on display will be the new 300-W monocrystalline PERC Smart Module designed to harvest 25 percent more energy. In addition to free, 24-hour monitoring per module, the Smart Module also has module-level voltage shutdown to offer greater installer and firefighter safety. Booth 8317.

Ciel et Terre: Making floating PV happen in the U.S.

hydrelio floating solar

Ciel et Terre has completed large-scale floating PV systems in various market applications and countries, showcasing FPV as a real alternative to traditional PV in roof-top and ground-mounted systems. In the past year, the organization increased its U.S. reach with its first public utility project in Orlando, alongside its local Florida representative D3 Energy and in partnership with the Orlando Utilities Commission. Ciel et Terre installed a 31.5-kWp floating solar system on the OUC’s storm water storage reservoir, a dead water space at the facility, and is expected to generate up to 51,000 kWh per year. Booths 9744 and 9745.

Eaton: Control system to simplify microgrid deployment

Eaton microgrid system

Designed for critical applications requiring secure, efficient and reliable power, Eaton’s newest solution is engineered to deploy stand-alone power systems using existing and new assets with the adaptability to easily meet future needs. The system incorporates Eaton’s new Power Xpert energy optimizer controller and provides a modular, scalable approach to microgrid control, as well as accompanying services, such as microgrid feasibility studies, total system design, control system deployment, integration with existing third-party generation assets and critical loads, project implementation, commissioning and system start-up, and ongoing maintenance. Booth 8310.

EcoFasten Solar: New standing seam metal roofing application

EcoFasten

EcoFasten Solar has launched its newest product, SimpleBlock, a solution designed specifically for standing seam metal roofing applications. The versatile SimpleBlock provides a variety of options through compatibility with any rack manufacturer’s connection points (L-feet, posts), and will fit any double-lock standing seam. When used in conjunction with EcoFasten’s Mid-Clamp, SimpleBlock becomes a rail-free racking system featuring integrated bonding. The system meets and exceeds all known building codes and is UL 2703 listed, with product compliance determined through rigorous, uncompromised testing per UL 2703: First Edition. Due to such an overwhelming response to this innovative system, EcoFasten Solar is gearing up for high volume manufacturing to meet industry demand and will also be unveiling additional configurations for more seam options soon. Booth 9433.

Fronius: Offering its next generation solar solution

Fronius

Fronius introduces its next generation of solar systems to the industry, the Fronius Smart Solution. This satisfies all needs for residential and commercial systems: flexible system design, shade mitigation, NEC compliance, high performance and state-of-the art monitoring while keeping the number of components low and installation easy. The Fronius Smart Solution combines the benefits of traditional MLPE such as microinverters or DC optimizers with the ease of installation and cost-effectiveness of string inverters. The Fronius Smart Solution is the combination of cell-string optimized modules, the Fronius Rapid Shutdown Box, a Fronius SnapINverter, the optional Fronius Smart Meter and the Fronius Solar.web online monitoring portal. Check it out for yourself at the Fortune Energy booth. Booth 8519.

Heyco: A solution for every cable need

Heyco solar clips

Heyco’s new Edge Clips are ideal for use where holes cannot be used and adhesives are not acceptable due to temperature issues. If these won’t work, check out Heyco’s new SunRunner Vidrios, which are designed to mount directly onto the glass panel with compression force only — perfect for frameless PV modules. If neither of those pique your interest, check out Heyco’s SunBundler. Though not new to Heyco’s offering, the Heyco SunBundler has been receiving a lot of attention due to its 20 year warranty and unique design. Check them out at the CED Greentech booth. Booth 8311.

Ideal Power: The latest in power conversion innovation

Ideal Power

Ideal Power’s newest Stabiliti Series power conversion system is a grid-resilient 30-kW advanced power conversion system for system integrators and project developers who need to efficiently connect distributed energy resources to the grid. Stabiliti is the next generation of Ideal Power’s patented Power Packet Switching Architecture (PPSA) technology and incorporates numerous new features and benefits for commercial and industrial customers. The Stabiliti Series is available in two versions: dual port AC-DC bi-directional and multi-port AC-DC-DC bi-directional. Ideal Power’s John Merritt will be speaking on July 10 from 12-12.30 p.m. at the ‘‘Islands, Mini-Grids, Microgrids & Energy Storage’’ session. His talk will explain how solar-plus-storage systems can become microgrid-enabled with multi-port conversion technologies, creating energy resilience and reducing reliance on backup generators. Booth 8110.

JLM Energy: Patent-pending ‘microstorage’ technology

JLM Energy Phazr

Phazr, the first in JLM’s MicroStorage family of products, is mounted seamlessly behind the solar panel. Phazr is designed for large-scale, solar-plus-storage applications and is also perfectly suited for smaller residential and commercial installs. The simultaneous nature of electron flow is unique to JLM’s patent-pending technology. This is included in JLM’s energy technology bundle and is operated by Measurz software, which continually observes energy usage patterns and utilizes a variety of strategies to maintain a pre-set budget determined by the customer. Booth 8134.

Pika Energy: Partnership with Panasonic on solar smart battery

Pika_MAY17_006_web

Panasonic Eco Solutions North America and U.S.-based inverter manufacturer Pika Energy Inc. are partnering to offer a DC-coupled solar smart battery — Harbor 10P/15P — that will begin shipping in late 2017 and is available for pre-order today. The solar-ready Harbor Smart Battery combines Panasonic’s Lithium-Ion battery modules and Pika Energy’s power electronics in a slim, floor-standing, wall-mounted enclosure to provides 10 kWh or 15 kWh of usable energy and up to 6.7 kW of continuous power. Booth 8318.

Preformed Line Products: Speeding up rail-less mounting

Preformed Line Products

Maneuvering mounting rails can be the most demanding part of installing rooftop solar modules. But now installers can avoid that — and mount modules faster and easier — with the POWER DISK rail-less mounting system from Preformed Line Products. POWER DISK is a unique roof attachment that can go anywhere on residential rooftops. It does not need to be secured to rafters. Install solar modules in four simple steps: 1. Snap chalk lines. 2. Mount POWER DISK bases anywhere on the roof deck. 3. Set solar modules in place. 4. Spin the disks to vertically adjust height to roof undulations. Booth 9449.

Quick Mount: New series for comp/asphalt shingle roofs

Quick Mount

Quick Mount PV engineered its patented Elevated Water Seal Technology into an integrated L-foot and flashing for cost-effective, super-fast, single-bolt installation with unparalleled waterproofing. The L-Mount Series comes in single- and double-slot options for maximum versatility and works with all leading racks. L-Mounts are designed for simple lag-bolt installation onto existing composition/asphalt shingle roofs. The L-Mount features a 9-in. by 12-in. aluminum flashing with alignment notches and rounded corners to easily slide under shingles and speed installation. No shingle cutting required. Like all Quick Mount PV products, the L-Mount meets or exceeds roofing industry best practices and comes with a 25-year warranty. Available in mill or black finish. Booth 9411.

RBI Solar: Ground mount, ballasted, roof mount and canopy solutions

RBI solar Logo

RBI Solar is one of the top turn-key solar mounting solutions suppliers in the United States for ground mount, ballasted landfills, roof mounts and canopy/carport structures. As a single-source provider for commercial and utility-scale PV projects, all responsibility for the design, engineering, manufacturing and installation of the most efficient PV Racking systems in the marketplace is completed in-house by the RBI Solar Team. Committed to providing value from conception to completion, RBI Solar’s customers receive cost-effective and durable racking solutions for each project site to aide in reducing the overall project costs. Booth L9008.

SimpliPhi: Plug-and-play storage

SimpliPhi - AccESS - 300 DPI

Developed in partnership with installers, SimpliPhi Power’s AccESS has been installed in a variety of locations, including a commercial “glamping” resort, Flying Flags, and is positioned for hundreds of residential installations in partnership with Civic Solar’s SGIP projects. The AccESS provides power security that is safe, reliable, non-hazardous and efficient. The fully integrated solution includes the SimpliPhi award-winning battery technology, Schneider Electric inverter charge controller, associated power electronics and overall system management. Pre-programmed software settings and performance monitoring complete the solution. Booth 8124.

Smappee Plus: New advanced energy monitoring

Smappee Plus

Now entering the U.S. solar market, Smappee Plus is the latest innovation from Smappee’s burgeoning energy monitoring solutions which have seen widespread adoption across Europe since 2012. The product combines Smappee’s patented NILM (Non-Intrusive Load Monitoring) technology with submetering clamps to measure real-time energy use from appliances throughout a user’s home including those with variable output or similar energy consumption patterns, giving previously undetectable transparency to energy use. Head to the Impress Lounge across the street from the Moscone Center for more info.

Solar-Log: Enhanced PV monitoring portal allows for more installer services

solar log pv monitoring

Solar-Log’s new WEB Enerest is an enhanced PV monitoring portal that works in combination with Solar-Log’s data loggers to offer better monitoring and more efficient optimization of solar power usage. The new Solar-Log WEB Enerest portal is available in three different service levels and price classes to respond even more precisely to the differing needs of individual customer groups. The most advanced XL package allows installers and service providers to centrally monitor their entire fleet from one portal. This premium version provides near real-time visualization of plant error messages which can be quickly evaluated and managed. The portal allows the operator to remotely configure the Solar-Log®device, customize the portal design, and define plant owners’ access to the yield and plant information. Automated reports, integrated weather data comparison and the option to combine several plants with one account are just some of the comprehensive functions. Booth 9121.

SunModo: Debuting new solar awnings to shield windows, generate energy

sunmodo awning

The concept is simple: Replace traditional metal and fabric awnings with solar-power-generating panels that provide necessary protection from the elements while also replacing traditional electricity usage. That concept is coming to the marketplace as the SunShield awning system. It is being introduced by SunModo, a company that makes durable, easy-to-install professional racking systems. The SunShield awning system features a durable triangular aluminum frame as structural truss; and expands to a 35-degree tilt angle once installed. This compact triangle frame design easily accommodates both 60 and 72 cell solar panels. What’s more, SunShield opens the awning industry to 30 percent tax credits and provides a substantial new canvas for solar power generation. Booth 9539.

Tabuchi America: Expanded storage capacity

Tabuchi

Originally launched in the United States at Intersolar 2015, Tabuchi America is debuting the 2nd generation model of its Eco Intelligent Battery System (EIBS). Tabuchi’s all-in-one, easy-to-install system includes a 5.5-kW solar inverter and stackable 6-kWh lithium-ion batteries. The Tabuchi EIBS has the intelligence to maximize a homeowner’s savings in real time across different electricity tariffs. This DC-coupled system will meet advanced inverter requirements and will be 9540 compliant. Booth 8121.

Trojan Battery: AGM battery designed for solar installs

Trojan Battery

Trojan Battery Co. is launching a new line of maintenance-free, true deep-cycle absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries specifically designed for solar and other renewable energy applications. The new Trojan Solar AGM line is manufactured in the U.S. Offering a three-year warranty for stationary applications, and tested to an eight-year design life under IEC 61427 standard for solar batteries, this initial release includes a wide range of Trojan Solar AGM models. With its non-spillable design, the new Trojan Solar AGM batteries enable installers to customize the use and position of the batteries in customer applications. Booth 8128.

— Solar Builder magazine

GTM Research predicts solar market doomsday scenario if Suniva’s proposal is approved

suniva petition fallout

If SEIA’s 88,000 job loss warning wasn’t enough, GTM Research has published a chilling report on the devastating impact Suniva’s new trade dispute would have on the U.S. solar market if their proposals were imposed.

If Suniva’s petition is successful, GTM says it will erase two-thirds of what’s expected to come online over the next five years with utility-scale solar being the most at risk. If module prices returned to 2012, immediately with more than 20 GW would be at risk of being canceled. If Suniva’s proposal is approved — meaning, there will be a new minimum price on imported crystalline silicon solar modules, and a new tariff on imported cells — the U.S. could miss out on more than 47 GW of solar installations. That’s more than what the U.S. solar market has brought online to date.

“In our latest report we found that between 2018 and 2022, total U.S. solar installations would fall from 72.5 GW cumulatively to just 36.4 gigawatts under a $0.78 per watt minimum module price scenario. Even more dramatic, with a $1.18 per watt minimum price, representing a $0.40 per watt cell tariff on top of a $0.78 per watt minimum module price, cumulative installations would plummet to 25 gigawatts.”

SEIA explains plan to lead fight against Suniva petition, remedies for the future

Key Findings: Section 201 Scenario Analyses

• Between 2018 and 2022, total U.S. solar installations would fall from 72.5 GW cumulatively to just 36.4 GW under a $0.78/W minimum module price scenario, or 25 GW under a $1.18/W minimum price, representing a $0.40/W cell tariff on top of a $0.78/W minimum module price.

• Utility PV is expected to see the largest downward revisions to its base case forecast. A majority of utility PV procurement now hinges on solar being cost competitive with natural gas alternatives, with nearly three-fourths of the utility PV pipeline procured outside Renewable Portfolio Standards. Under both tariff scenarios, most of that is at risk of cancellation unless PPA prices are renegotiated.

GTM Research suniva trade prediction

• Residential PV is the least sensitive segment to the introduction of tariffs. On one hand, the number of state markets at grid parity in 2021 would fall from 43 to 35 in the minimum module price only scenario (43 to 26 with the cell tariff added to the minimum module price). However, the top six states, which drive a majority of the base case outlook, would continue to offer more than 10% annual net savings. Challenging rate structures that limit savings for large C&I, plus financing risks for community solar, are the primary drivers behind non-residential PV experiencing a larger downturn than residential PV.

• Top tier module suppliers are sold out through the end of the year, as developers and installers contract imported modules ahead of a potential November ruling. Two-thirds of this supply will go to utility PV buyers who have better pipeline visibility, larger volumes and tighter project economics

— Solar Builder magazine

Urban Planning: Commercial rooftops are biggest void, opportunity in solar

Standard Solar

Solar projects have so much potential when viewed as a collective bundle, like this group of 30 rooftop arrays Standard Solar is installing for the Washington, D.C., Department of General Services that combine for a total of 7 MW (pictured here).

Commercial rooftops offer a ton of potential job opportunities for solar installers and developers going forward. Analysts at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimate a technical potential of 1,118 GW of capacity and 1,432 TWh of annual energy generation, equivalent to 39 percent of the nation’s electricity sales.

This current estimate is significantly greater than that of a previous NREL analysis, which estimated 664 GW of installed capacity and 800 TWh of annual energy generation. Analysts attribute the new findings to increases in module power density, improved estimation of building suitability, higher estimates of the total number of buildings and improvements in PV performance simulation tools.

To calculate these estimates, NREL analysts used LiDAR data, Geographic Information System methods and PV-generation modeling to calculate the suitability of rooftops for hosting PV in 128 cities nationwide-representing approximately 23 percent of U.S. buildings-and provide PV-generation results for 47 of the cities. The analysts then extrapolated these findings to the entire continental United States. The result is more accurate estimates of technical potential at the national, state and ZIP code level.

How to use tracker control systems to your advantage

Within the 128 cities studied, the researchers found that 83 percent of small buildings have a suitable location for PV installation, but only 26 percent of those buildings’ total rooftop area is suitable for development. Because of the sheer number of this class of building across the country, however, small buildings actually provide the greatest combined technical potential. Altogether, small building rooftops could accommodate up to 731 GW of PV capacity and generate 926 TWh per year of PV energy — approximately 65 percent of the country’s total rooftop technical potential. Medium and large buildings have a total installed capacity potential of 386 GW and energy generation potential of 506 TWh per year, approximately 35 percent of the total technical potential of rooftop PV.

Key in this segment is the selection of the right mounting and racking system that makes your life easier, won’t damage the roof and is overall safe from wind and weather peril. Here’s a rundown of a few such systems and how they might save you time and cost.

System Profiles: Rooftop Ballast

Ecolibrium ballast project

Ecolibrium’s EcoFoot2+ Ballasted Flat-Roof Racking System

The EcoFoot2+ takes simplicity to a new level with integrated grounding and pre-assembled universal clamps. The modular design has just three main components: 1) A molded-resin base with no sharp edges and built-in drainage channels; 2) Pre-assembled clamps for integrated bonding without washers; 3) Corrosion-resistant wind deflectors that reduce ballast.

How does it save time and cost?

The installation speed is DNV-GL rated at 13.5 modules per installer hour. The feet can be tucked, minimizing the total footprint or allowing additional ballasting. Wire management is integrated. Bases nest to fit 50 kW per pallet, which saves on shipping.

  • Material: Black, ASA-PC, UL Listed Resin
  • Weight estimate: 3 to 7 psf
  • Slope: 0 to 7 degrees
  • Tilt angles: Landscape 10 degree; Portrait 5 degree
  • Attach option: Yes
  • Certifications: UL 2703; Class A Fire Rated; SEAOC, CFD compliant; Wind tunnel tested to 150 mph
  • Warranty: 25-year

Sollega

Sollega’s FastRack FR510

If you want the fewest parts possible, the FastRack510 (FR510) by Sollega might be the answer. It is a universal one-piece ballasted mounting system compatible with all framed modules. As with all Sollega mounting systems, the FR510 is lightweight and stackable, ships efficiently and is quick and easy to stage and install. FR510s are injection molded in California from Ultramid — an advanced glass reinforced nylon developed in partnership with BASF, the world leader in polymers. Ultramid is engineered to withstand extreme weather conditions and has a 25-year warranty. Sollega offers full engineering support services with every project, including layouts, ballast and optional anchor plans.

How does it save time and cost?

The FR510 arrives on site ready to install with no assembly required (500 kW fits in a 40-ft shipping container). All module attachments are top-down and require one size tool. Built-in reference tabs ease the alignment process. Sollega also says its system’s ability to attach rail internally provides for increased load sharing, and for hybrid systems, flexibility in mechanical anchor installation.

  • Material: BASF Ultramid glass reinforced nylon
  • Weight: 4.75 lbs
  • Slope: 0 to 7 degrees
  • Tilt angles: 5 and 10 degrees
  • Attach option: Yes
  • Certifications: UL 2703 Class A Type 1, 2 modules
  • Warranty: 25-year

Dynoraxx

Dynoraxx’s Evolution FR

The Evolution FR from Dynoraxx is designed to work with all framed modules on the market without any special ordering and requires no lead times. The system is made out of fiberglass, which provides remarkable strength-to-weight ratio that is pound for pound stronger than sheet metal, steel and aluminum and is about 70 percent the weight of aluminum on a density basis, according to Dynoraxx. Fiberglass is nonreactive with any roofing material and does not corrode or rust. Its lifespan is not affected by extreme temperature fluctuations, salty or humid air, sun, wind, acid rain and heavy snow. The use of fiberglass reinforced thermosetting resin builds structural strength directly into the Evolution. To improve part performance specific to the Evolution, the glass reinforcement is aligned along the stress points of the basket for added rigidity and support.

How does it save time and cost?

Part count is low and lightweight, which helps with shipping, and the lack of nuts or bolts means no tools are required for setup. The system comes with integrated DynoBond Grounding.

      • Material: UV-resistant fiberglass
      • Weight estimate: ~5 psf
      • Slope: 0 to 5 degree pitch
      • Tilt angles: Fixed 10-degree tilt
      • Attach option: Yes
      • Certifications: UL 2703
      • Warranty: 10-year

Kanzo

Kanzo’s K1250 Solar Racking

The Kanzo K1250 is made out of a high performance terpolymer, PC-XUV (Polycarbonate with Extreme Ultraviolet Stabilization), which has an excellent balance of UV stability and property retention. This material is designed for use in outdoor and high heat applications. It maintains an “F1” rating per UL 746C for outdoor suitability. In addition to these weatherability attributes, it has terrific impact resistance and rigidity. Kanzo says the material has a high level of chemical resistance compared to other styrenics.

How does it save time and cost?

The perfect 90 degree area allows you to measure your first row, and that’s it. The rest of the system will build out from there without measuring. The clamp provides integrated grounding and comes fully assembled, so there are no bolts or nuts or screws to worry about losing or putting together. The system is capable of 18.656-in., row-to-row spacing.

  • Material:  PC-XUV
  • Weight estimate: 3 to 7 psf
  • Slope: 0 to 7 degrees
  • Tilt angles: 12.5 degree
  • Attach option: Yes
  • Certifications: ASCE 7-10 and ASCE 7-05 Wind Tunnel Testing; ETL UL 467 Grounding and Bonding Equipment; ETL UL 2703; ANSI / ETL UL 1703 Class A Fire Rated with Type 1 modules.
  • Warranty: 15-year

 

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Wire management: What to look for when planning, purchasing your next solar system

Snake Tray's Cable Conveyance System

Snake Tray has developed a cable conveyance system that maintains a specific separation between cables that eliminates the need for upsizing cable gauges due to the derating cable because of bundling or piping.

Wires are good for two things: 1) Installing a kick-ass PV system 2) Tripping people up. To accomplish the first, you must avoid the second at all costs, which means implementing a sound wire management plan on projects of all sizes.

Planning

Just like the rest of the system, planning is important for both saving time and money. Tom Marsden and Vince Giglio from Heyco recommend laying out the cable routing on paper first before installing the solar cables. This will help you decide the best way to route the cables and what will be the most efficient use of cable mounting hardware.

Part of planning is of course purchasing, and knowing the most efficient ways to use what you’ve got.

“One way of saving time on installs would be to use stainless steel clips at the module level because you can install multiple clips in the same amount of time you can install a single zip tie, thus saving on labor costs,” says Vincent Marino, product manager for Nine Fasteners. “Also, when using micoinverters or optimizers connected to the panels, they can be applied prior to bringing the panel onto the roof.”

Nine Fasteners’ DCS-1307 Clip

Nine Fasteners’ DCS-1307 is its most popular clip. Constructed of stainless steel, it incorporates a rolled outer edge for maximum wire protection and is UL Certified. Its simplicity makes it cost competitive while still being manufactured in the United States.

Oh, and one trend to note while planning — pest management systems are starting to be required in rooftop installations, according to Marsden.

In a ground-mount, Roger Jette, president of Snake Tray, recommends keeping your power cables above ground when possible to remove the need to trench or thread cables through pipe.

“Besides being labor intensive, there is a potential of derating the current capacity of the cable,” Jette says. “With voltages now approaching 2,000 V, there is a high potential for problems if not enough attention is spent on the proper cable conveyance. Without a good cable conveyance plan, there is a potential for degradation of the cable insulation leading to arc failure.”

Let’s Get Wired: Five new wire management solutions to watch

We’ve heard plenty of horror stories from installers and manufacturers in regard to incorrect installation approaches or accidental errors, but the anecdotes that stand out most are those caused by wire management. Just seems silly to risk the performance of a $13,000 system by skimping out and choosing ties known to fail or clips known to dig into wires and cut them over time — the solar equivalent of losing a football game because of a missed extra point.

“Too many installers are sacrificing quality for costs. We have seen a number of installations

Heyco’s SunRunner Vidrio

Heyco’s latest clip, the SunRunner Vidrio, is intended for installation directly onto the solar module with compression force only. The SunRunner Vidrio is a stainless steel clip with a special TPE so it will not harm the glass surface and can accommodate glass panels from 0.13-in. to 0.25-in. thick.

where UV nylon cable ties are breaking, only to be replaced with more UV nylon cable ties,” Marsden says. “This scenario is no different than buying something for your home. Are you going to buy an appliance that needs to be replaced every two to three years or are you willing to spend a little more up front, knowing your product is backed by a warranty?” He points to stainless steel cable ties as a less risky solution.

Your other purchasing decisions dictate what wiring will need to be done as well, especially with those installing rail-less systems. The lack of a rail changes your wire management options.

“As a New Jersey installer, many jurisdictions require wiring inspections to verify that rails have been properly grounded,” says Chris Torre, installation manager at Green Sun Energy Systems, which has been using Quick Mount PV’s rail-free system, Quick Rack. “We’ve been able to eliminate the cost of the second truck roll to the site, saving an average of $300 to $400 per project. The system has integrated grounding pins located on the panel clamps, so the system can’t be grounded until the panels are installed. With this system, we’ve been able to install as many as 68 panels in a single day with a three-man crew.”

Chris Crowell is the managing editor of Solar Builder.

— Solar Builder magazine

How to use tracker control systems to your advantage

In the December 2016 Solar Builder, I discussed the industry evolution from passive to active and dynamic systems. Here’s a primer on control systems and how to make them work for your project.

The Basics

sunlink distributed tracker

Clients frequently ask how trackers will respond to a given condition. Your tracker manufacturer will have a Control Narrative that documents how the system behaves, but strategies include:

  • Excessive Wind. Trackers move to wind stow. Several manufacturers adopt a high-angle stow to mitigate torque. SunLink adopts a low angle stow and activates Dynamic Stabilization.
  • Snow. Trackers move to maximum tilt to shed snow. The higher the tilt, the more snow is shed. For example snow load is reduced by >80% at 60 degrees tilt.
  • Flood. Trackers move to flat to keep modules and wiring out of the water.
  • Obstructions. An abnormal rise in current triggers a fault that stops movement and prevents damage to the tracker.

Along the same lines, clients also ask how the control system works. It varies from system to system but generally there are several layers of communication and intelligence.

The fundamental tracker tilt behavior is governed by the tracker controller at each tracker. Data from individual trackers are sent through the communication network to the plant controller. The plant controller synthesizes data from the trackers and meteorological sensors and makes site-wide decisions about stow and manual control.

From there the data is sent to the local SCADA / DAS system or cloud for use in remote monitoring systems. SunLink’s VERTEX platform helps stakeholders track system performance by displaying critical data in a secure web app.

Impact on Economics

Given the significant role tracker control systems play in the operation of your project, be sure to take the time to discuss monitoring and control systems with your mounting system provider as part of your technology evaluation process.

This diligence is particularly helpful when it comes to commercial and small utility projects. Most developers in this segment opt to monitor performance with simple and relatively inexpensive energy meters. Energy data from the project or a portfolio of projects is accessed through a third-party data monitoring system. While that approach is fine when the system is operating well, it is insufficient for answering questions about why performance varies over time. Are the inverters underperforming? Has it been cloudy? Do trackers need service?

Spread the Wealth: We look at the value decentralized tracker systems bring to a project

A more sophisticated monitoring system could generate more granular data but would cost tens of thousands of dollars. And once implemented, the data is only as good as the insights and actionable information it generates. Too many small developers we talk to are frustrated by a sea of nuisance alarms generated by the data monitoring system and limited O&M resources to do anything about it. After all the effort to put in advanced data monitoring system, the data is ignored. For those reasons, most developers in this segment don’t use sophisticated systems.

Is there a middle ground? Leveraging the intelligence of the tracker system is one way. The same data needed to drive the intelligent control systems of active and dynamic tracker systems can complement energy measurements to answer questions about how the site is performing. Some companies are going a step further. SunLink’s VERTEX platform, for example, is designed to summarize the most important performance metrics and alerts.

Patrick KeelinThe Takeaway

Control systems and their ability to gather data and make it actionable play a pivotal role in ensuring tracker projects perform optimally over the long term. Particularly for the commercial and small utility segment, the ability to leverage real-time project intelligence collected by smarter mounting systems is essential in increasing the value of solar projects without increasing capital cost.

Patrick Keelin is Director of Product Management at SunLink.

— Solar Builder magazine