SunLink reports 150 percent growth in total MW shipped in 2017

sunlink racking

SunLink Corp. surpassed more than two gigawatts (GW) of total installed solar projects by the end of 2017. With more than 150 percent year-over-year growth in total megawatts shipped, SunLink increased its fixed-tilt market share by over 4x amid an overall industry decline in the utility ground mount market. The company grew TechTrack, its most technologically advanced solution, by 5x.

“SunLink continued to demonstrate its engineering prowess by taking on some of the industry’s most challenging solar projects in 2017. Customers continued to depend on SunLink to deliver the industry’s most flexible and dependable fixed-tilt mounting solution backed by our deep engineering expertise,” said Michael Maulick, president and CEO of SunLink. “We are especially pleased with the continued traction we’re making in the tracker market. It’s clear that our most innovative customers are responding positively to our intelligent tracker for optimal power density, energy generation and measurable reductions in total project costs.”

During 2017, SunLink’s GeoPro showed significant gains in new geographic markets. SunLink recorded 2,400 percent growth in fixed-tilt projects installed in the Midwest, stimulated by large project deployments in high-growth solar states such as Minnesota. Projects in the Southeast region also grew by 142 percent with local utilities expanding their clean energy mix in states such as Florida and Georgia. The Southeast was particularly challenging last year due to numerous hurricanes, high winds and other environmental factors that made GeoPro the go-to solution.

SB Buzz Podcast: SunLink VP on tech, data, diversity and the path forward for solar

Engineered to withstand high wind speeds of more than 150 mph, SunLink’s GeoPro installations weathered the most challenging environmental conditions this past hurricane season in high impact areas such as Florida.

On the tracker front, SunLink’s TechTrack continued to make strides with a five-fold increase in installations over the previous year. In 2017, select sites had the capability to monitor and control tracker performance via Vertex, SunLink’s tracker intelligence platform, providing real-time smart data captured by IoT sensors. For the first time, SunLink was able to show geospatial tracker performance data at the granularity of an individual row.

What’s coming in 2018

In 2018, SunLink will continue to focus on implementing the latest cloud and IoT technologies to make increasingly more intelligent trackers. New features focused on providing additional data analytics as well as firmware improvements to enable data capture from various sources will provide customers with even greater ability to maximize energy production while lowering installation, O&M costs and return-on-investment.

— Solar Builder magazine

Driving pile in Minnesota: How Landwehr handles longer than normal piles up north

Hercules-pile-drivingLarge-scale solar projects are becoming more common in Minnesota, and as you might expect, installation of these projects requires a different approach than large-scale projects in those popular desert climates.

An example would be a new 5 MW AC Project south of the Twin Cities. On approximately 20 acres, two factors in particular require a different approach. The ground is mostly dense sand with little cobble, and a Minnesota winter’s frost can affect uplift. So, what’s the answer in such a situation? Longer piles with more embedment depth.

The project was contracted with Landwehr Construction to handle the pile driving. Landwehr, based in St. Cloud, Minn., had the experience with helical piers and bracing needed to find an answer to handling the extra pile length. Although the company has been around since 1895, solar work was not one of its areas of expertise until recent years.

“We began doing helical piers and bracing to support our precast division,” said Robert Schofield, Landwehr’s foundation estimator.  “A few years ago we hired a senior estimator with over 25 years of experience building renewable sites. We paired his knowledge with our crews who typically perform highway heavy, crane and site work. The combination of experience and skill set has worked out very well for us.”

In addition to the right crews, Landwehr needed to acquire a new machine to handle this job. It turned to the Hercules STR-20 for a number of reasons, the biggest being its 29-ft boom. “On the west side of the array, it is very dense sand, so all the piles are 22-ft tall, requiring 15 ft of embedment,” Schofield said. “The Hercules machine is currently the only one on the market capable of driving a 22-ft pile without pre-drilling the holes.”

RELATED: Hammer Time: What to look for in your next pile-driving machine 

Schofield estimated that using standard equipment would have added a minimum of three crew members and at least one other piece of equipment to the job.  The job also moved along more efficiently due to the STR-20’s ability to free-float the hammer, which can save time on each pile. “You can physically push the pile in the ground until you can’t push it in anymore, then switch to the hammer,” Schofield said. “So, on this site, we can push them in anywhere from 4 to 6 ft and then hammer them in the rest of the way.”

The STR-20 also sits on a turntable, allowing it to spin 360 degrees and do two rows in one pass. “It all comes down to saving a few seconds here, a few seconds there,” Schofield said. “It really adds up over a couple thousand piles.”  Their success can been seen in the numbers. Landwehr began driving pile for this project on Sept. 1 and only experienced four refusals out of 1,800 piles.

Chris Crowell is the managing editor of Solar Builder.

— Solar Builder magazine

Next-gen ground-mount solution from RBI Solar makes its debut

RBI Solar recently unveiled its latest solar racking system, the RBI Solar next generation ground mount solution, after it achieved ETL Classification from Intertek to UL Standard 2703. This new model underwent a rigorous testing regimen for bonding and grounding to pass the UL 2703 Standard, which became effective on July 28, 2016.

The RBI Solar next generation ground mount solution was specifically designed to make solar installation more affordable for commercial and utility-scale PV projects. New innovations to the solar racking system include a wider selection of component parts, including an economical upright post and top chord engineered to bear the load while using less steel. Without sacrificing strength where strength is needed, this new system also reduces costs by incorporating a more streamlined production process.

This new ground mount solution has multiple foundation designs to be compatible with a variety of site-specific soil and ground conditions. Structural components are also available to match wind and snow loads. All of these innovations are focused on reducing the overall cost of the racking system. The RBI Solar next generation ground mount solution is manufactured at one of the company’s five locations and will begin shipping at the start of the second quarter of 2016.

RELATED: SPI Preview: Four fixed-tilt mounting products to see 

As more building officials, jurisdictions and inspectors become aware of UL 2703, solar racking system compliance has become essential for developers and EPC contractors. RBI Solar continuously tests for UL bonding and grounding compliance with different PV module manufacturers. This commitment to testing enables RBI Solar’s customers to have confidence that the racking solutions they provide meet the codes and standard requirements even in the jurisdictions with highly stringent plan review processes.

“We’re really excited about the potential of the RBI Solar next generation ground mount solution for our customers,” said Bill Vietas, General Manager at RBI Solar. “The advancements to this system are going to provide even better return on investment for solar systems.”

— Solar Builder magazine

PV Pointers: Five tips for purchasing from a mounting manufacturer

Patrick Keelin

Patrick Keelin

1) Engage manufacturers early

Successful renewable energy projects optimize the power generation equipment in accordance with a site’s unique conditions. Unsuccessful projects fight their environment.

Rather than advocating a one-size-fits-all solution, your mounting system manufacturer should be involved in project planning from day one to recommend options as to how to best work with site realities like heavy snow, uneven terrain, poor geotechnical conditions and more.

In addition, when it comes to portfolio scale projects, ask what products are in the development pipeline. Rapid innovation in solar means that what’s available today may not be the best solution for a project installing 18 months from now.

2) Further investigate modeled assumptions

Seek out partners who are able to advise you as to 1) how different assumptions affect modeled results, and 2) how likely you are to achieve your modeled results based on historic performance.

Your mounting solution provider should have the expertise to optimize project design to help your realize the highest possible energy yield. For example, pushing the assumption that extending tilt range improves product actually has diminishing returns. Instead, looking closer at your ground coverage ratio can do more to improve yield.  Your project partner should also be able to help you reduce the delta between modeled and actual performance.

3) Review the reliability documentation

In the world of solar product development, relentless price pressure can either drive rapid innovation or leads to solutions that cut corners. Evaluate which is the case for every product you consider.

If the manufacturer has a bankability report, have your engineers read it and engage with the manufacturer to ask questions, dive deeper and learn more. Don’t just check the box. A bankability report is nonbinding, and it’s not an endorsement. It is an independent assessment of the product. The final decision is with the buyer.

Beware of misleading metrics. For example, Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) is used to characterize how long components in a system will operate before failing, but applying MTBF to solar trackers can be a misleading.

Intuition says that half of the components in question will fail before the mean, and half will fail after the mean. In reality, with a constant failure rate, two-thirds will fail before the MTBF. The issue is that MTBF is a single number and says little about the distribution of failures over time. Reliability is a clearer, more actionable statistic. Reliability asks how many components will still be working after a given number of years. Continuing the example above, a 40-year MTBF is equivalent to a 40-year reliability of one-third.

RELATED: The value of a team approach to fixed-tilt ground-mount projects 

4) Choose your maintenance strategy

When you choose a mounting solution, you are at the same time choosing an anticipated maintenance path and budget. The only no-maintenance mounting alternative is a fixed tilt system. Centralized trackers that utilize 1-2 drives per MW and commercial off-the-shelf components require greater investment on the front end, but need minimal attention over the long term in the context of the entire solar plant. At the other end of the spectrum, distributed tracker systems introduce thousands of control and actuator assemblies into harsh environments, requiring a carefully designed component replacement strategy to ensure long-term performance. In either case, make sure that a realistic maintenance plan is discussed before the final purchase decision.

5) Look for SCADA and data monitoring support

SCADA is often last to be considered in the design of a project, but it is an enduring touch-point that accounts for a disproportionate share of issues post commissioning. A solar portfolio manager recently told us that 80 percent of his project alarms are due to communications failures. The tech industry gives us a roadmap for dramatic improvements in how projects are monitored and controlled.

When it comes to mounting solutions, you want a partner, not a vendor. Those partners who are truly invested in seeing your projects succeed and helping your business grow will not only be open to having a transparent discussion about optimizing your solutions, they will be enthusiastic about it. Don’t be shy about asking the tough questions.

As Director of Project Management, Patrick helps define SunLink’s next generation of products and services benefiting the solar PV industry.

— Solar Builder magazine

GameChange Solar expands into Canada with Pour in Place order

Gamechange pour in placeGameChange Solar announced that it has expanded into Canada after an order for its Pour-in-Place Ballasted Ground System from a leading solar developer in Ontario.

“We are excited to enter a new market with our industry leading ballasted and pile driven ground and rooftop solar racking systems,” said Teresa Zhao, Director of Business Development at GameChange Solar. “Now customers in Canada are able to have a solution for their projects with both bankable quality and value pricing.”

Recently, GameChange Solar introduced round pouring forms for its Pour-in-Place Ballasted Ground System that improves installation speed for the system by eliminating the need for the temporary plywood and steel hoop structure that the system previously had with its straight tubs. The straight tubs will still be produced to satisfy needs of all projects currently designed with this system, and retained for customers requesting them, but GameChange expects essentially all projects going forward to opt for the round tubs.

The Pour-In-Place can hit a 68 percent faster install than precast, providing substantial labor savings by eliminating moving and shimming heavy, precast blocks. Patent pending articulating purlin connections to navigate up to 15 percent terrain slopes.

Further reading: You down with CIP? How cast-in-place foundations add flexibility to a solar installation

— Solar Builder magazine