Renewable energy needs steel, but is steel green? New report calls for reduction in steel industry carbon footprint

steel in solar

Green energy sources like solar are the best energy solutions for the planet, but they also aren’t perfect. Example: At the largest conference in the U.S. dedicated to green building, Mighty Earth released a new report pointing out the enormous carbon footprint of steel used in green construction. The global steel industry emits 2.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year – equivalent to the emissions from 569 coal plants.

The report shows that the industry could easily take action to mitigate its climate impact: if all steel manufacturers sourced electricity for their electric arc furnaces from clean energy sources, they would reduce the carbon footprint of those facilities by 44 percent.

“We’re releasing this report at Greenbuild to show that even the greenest buildings are using steel produced with dirty electricity,” said Margaret Hansbrough, Mighty Earth Campaign Director. “We can no longer ignore the tremendous amount of energy used in the steel manufacturing and recycling process – and how that electricity is being generated. It’s time to take these emissions into account and for builders to address the impact on our climate.”

The report, Construction Destruction: The Hidden Carbon Costs of Dirty Steel, calls on construction industry behemoths Skanska, Turner Construction, Clark Construction and AECOM to commit to only source steel from manufacturers that have switched to clean energy for all grid-sourced electricity.

As buildings have become increasingly efficient in operation and design, fewer emissions are coming from their operational footprint and the industry is shifting some focus to decrease the embodied carbon of steel and other building materials used in construction. Skanska, Turner Construction, Clark Construction and AECOM are some of the most influential players within the green building industry, but these companies have yet to commit to only buying materials with the lowest possible global warming potential. Skanska is considered the greenest of the group and has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

“Each year, the embodied carbon of all building materials accounts for 11 percent of global emissions and 28 percent of global building sector emissions,” said Hansbrough. “As buildings emit less day-to-day, their embodied carbon will take up an even greater proportion of their climate pollution. As the largest steel consumer, construction companies must ask their steel suppliers to commit to clean electricity and take other steps to dramatically reduce their emissions.”

Mighty Earth’s first report on the steel industry, Cold Steel, Hot Climate: The World’s Biggest Untapped Clean Energy Opportunity, called upon the entire steel industry to shift toward carbon neutrality, identifying Nucor Corporation as the best-positioned steel company to switch to 100 percent clean energy for its electricity.

Globally, the construction industry accounts for more than 50 percent of all steel produced. Nucor is the largest steel producer in the United States and calls itself “America’s largest recycler,” controlling approximately 29 percent of the U.S. steel market. The production method (Electric Arc Furnace or EAF) used by the company consumes massive amounts of electricity. Mighty Earth sees an opportunity for Nucor to transition to clean energy in the 25 states where it operates and is calling on major purchasers of Nucor steel in the construction industry to push the company to address the embodied carbon of its steel. However, Nucor has not yet made a commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions or to transition its electricity consumption to clean energy.

“The steel sector is America’s biggest clean energy opportunity,” said Glenn Hurowitz. “But instead, its largest company, Nucor, is not only denying climate science but allowing a golden opportunity to pass it by.”

In nearly every state where Nucor operates, there are clean energy procurement options available. Companies like GM, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and more than 100 others have already committed to sourcing 100 percent clean energy and are accelerating the greening of the grid.

— Solar Builder magazine

ForeFront Power develops solar carport, storage system for University of California, Santa Cruz

Forefront power

The University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) has partnered with ForeFront Power to develop a 2-MW solar parking canopy structure plus energy storage system that will provide clean, reliable electricity to the campus over a 20-year term. UCSC procured renewable energy with ForeFront Power through a streamlined procurement process via School Project for Utility Rate Reduction (SPURR). By utilizing a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) framework with no upfront cost through ForeFront Power and SPURR, the University will benefit from $6 million in electricity savings during the project term.

“We considered a number of options and the partnership for this project was determined to be the most expedient and the best and the cleanest solution,” said Traci Ferdolage, Associate Vice Chancellor of UCSC. “ForeFront Power and SPURR have been very responsive and supportive of the University’s renewable goals.”

The solar parking canopy project will contribute to the University’s Campus Sustainability Plan, which includes the goal of installing 4 MW of solar photovoltaic technology on the main campus. Moreover, this project is part of the campus’ strategy to meet the UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative, and partnerships like this project, will be a key component to meet this 2025 goal.1 Over 3 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity from the project will result in more than 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent avoided from the grid.

In addition to the benefits of on-site solar energy, the project will include 1.2 MW of energy storage to reduce peak demand and shift load to times of day when electricity is cheaper. The intelligent use of energy from the storage units combined with on-site solar energy generation helps maximize clean energy generation and enhance on-site sustainability.

“The inclusion of energy storage increases the value of the on-site solar project to the University,” said Go Mizoguchi, Co-CEO of ForeFront Power. “The University is able to save even more money while incurring no upfront cost.”

Since 2015, the SPURR Renewable Energy Aggregated Procurement (REAP) program and the ForeFront Power team have helped over 20 school districts, colleges, and municipalities procure more than 50 MW of clean solar power across more than 100 sites.

“It is exciting to see our program extended to the UC System at Santa Cruz so that more public organizations can benefit from the saved time, effort, and money by using our procurement process,” said Michael Rochman, Managing Director of SPURR. “SPURR strives to offer clear, fair, and competitively-sourced terms and conditions that allow for easy sourcing.”

ForeFront Power will be working with local Santa Cruz based companies to complete the installation. Together, ForeFront Power and UC Santa Cruz will engage in a phased construction approach to minimize impact on students and faculty. Engineers have already begun working closely with UCSC staff to ensure a safe connection to a complex campus grid that includes a natural gas fueled cogeneration plant.

The schools will also receive free post-secondary level lesson plans from Schools Power, a leading national education organization that provides schools and colleges with standards-based renewable energy curriculum packages. ForeFront Power and Schools Power announced their partnership in July 2017.

— Solar Builder magazine

EcoFasten acquired by a leading European solar rooftop mounting provider

EcoFasten Solar GreenFasten Solar Panel Roof Mount System

Esdec, a leading European solar rooftop mounting solutions provider (we profiled their new U.S.-focused commercial system here), announced today that it has acquired EcoFasten Solar, a manufacturer of water-tight solar roof mounts and components for the U.S. residential and commercial sectors. The combination of Esdec and EcoFasten Solar creates a major solar rooftop mounting player with 5 GW installed worldwide.

Esdec and EcoFasten Solar are both known for their quick-to-install, reliable mounting systems. EcoFasten Solar’s patented rail-less racking and mounting for multiple roof types have supported over 3 GW of U.S. installations, with the company projected to supply just under 500 MW in 2018. Esdec, the Netherlands’ largest mounting manufacturer with 1.9 GW of its systems installed across Europe, has seen increasing adoption of its FlatFix commercial flat-roof offering, fueling the company’s expansion into the U.S. market earlier this year.

“Esdec and EcoFasten Solar are a perfect fit,” said Stijn Vos, global CEO of Esdec. “Both companies have proven track records in launching differentiated products that serve the needs of installers and support them in their daily business. By combining these two customer-oriented forces, we are providing installers, distributors and the market with a very compelling, diversified product offering for both pitched and flat roof projects.”

EcoFasten Solar founder and roofing expert Brian Stearns started his Phoenix-based company to bridge the gap between solar array designers and the people who install those systems. Stearns will be instrumental in product development and utilizing the combined R&D resources of both companies to deliver even more efficient and reliable residential systems for the U.S. market.

“Esdec and EcoFasten Solar are cut from the same cloth,” he said. “We each have roots as roofers and solar installers and listen carefully to our customers’ needs, and we also share a relentless drive for innovation. I’m looking forward to helping the Esdec and EcoFasten brands reach the next level together, while focusing on what I love to do most¾working closely with the installer community, developing new products, and bringing them quickly to the market.”

Esdec successfully launched its U.S. subsidiary at the Solar Power International trade show earlier this year and is ramping up operations from its Atlanta headquarters. In addition to the EcoFasten Solar line, Esdec’s U.S. product offerings include the FlatFix system, a lightweight, clickable solar mounting system for flat commercial and industrial roofs. Esdec also recently celebrated the opening of its new Innovation Centre in the Netherlands, where the staff will work closely with the EcoFasten Solar team to fast-track the research, development and commercialization of new racking and mounting products for the U.S. and European markets.

— Solar Builder magazine

Bifacial Gains: How much will bifacial modules add to solar tracker value? We are about to find out

Soltec

Soltec is testing for all bifacial tracking variables at its new evaluation center in Livermore, Calif.

We are on the verge of the bifacial solar tracker era. Projects are being quoted with many starting to break ground later this year and early 2019.

Only two issues remain in the way of serious wide-spread adoption. First is the price of bifacial modules, which sits at about 30 cents a watt on average right now. The premium price makes sense because the market hasn’t formed yet, and it won’t form until there are bankable production estimates for the technology. That would be issue No. 2: the data set for bifacial tracker performance is incomplete, but this is about to change in a hurry.

Several big-time partnerships between tracker companies, module companies and PV research and testing labs have formed within the last year to understand this new bifacial module + PV tracker paradigm, test theories and build a complete data set on bifacial tracker production.

“This is a fundamentally different paradigm than before because the tracker and module are all intertwined with the site conditions in a way they weren’t before,” says Ron Corio, founder and CIO of Array Technologies.

Multiple approaches

The splashiest of these partnerships is Spain-based single-axis tracking supplier Soltec teaming with the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), Black and Veatch and RETC to build BiTEC, the world’s first evaluation center specialized in bifacial trackers, in Livermore, Calif. We visited the facility in July, and the site has a variety of configurations structured to isolate and measure any site or system design effect, such as:

  • Albedo
  • Terrain surface
  • Types of bifacial technology (from Hanwha-QCells, Jinko, Canadian Solar, LG and more)
  • GCR
  • Pitch
  • String design
  • 2x modules in portrait versus 1x.

One variable not changed throughout the field is tracker height, with all 2x configurations standing at 7.71 ft (with 1x configuration trackers at a height of 4.43 ft). The reason is Soltec’s preliminary electric performance measures over bifacial modules reveal a short-circuit current difference of over 2.3 percent between 1x and 2x trackers, meaning that height has a significant influence over the energy output of bifacial panels. The capture of diffuse irradiance below and around the tracker is increased with height, while the shadow cast on the ground is softened.

Array Technologies is taking a different approach. Also working with a U.S. national laboratory, Array is mapping the backside irradiance at a half cell resolution as well as testing various configurations at string level. Array’s testing is focused primarily on the module tracker interaction, varying module mounting techniques as well as testing module design variance. An important objective of this testing is to validate ray tracing simulation programs which will aid in the accurate modeling of bifacial performance in site-specific applications.

“We are working closely with the module manufacturers in a way we’ve never done before for exactly that reason,” Corio says. “When you design the module and the tracker as one system, you get a better result.”

In a comparative one year test, conducted in 2017, Array saw a 9 to 10 percent yearly gain for bifacial over monofacial at the same test site.

Array Technologies

Array Technologies already sees a 9 to 10 percent gain in bifacial tracking performance.

The difference in Soltec and Array’s testing approaches is in line with the difference in their tracking approaches — Soltec uses distributed tracker rows and Array supplys centralized drive. All of the performance gains reported will need to be considered within the already established LCOE of each tracker design.

Example: The torque tube impact is an early point of differentiation depending on who you ask. The Soltec testing team has seen the shadow from the torque tube in a 1x configuration hurting irradiance harvest in a way it does not when positioned in a 2x configuration, so its SF7 tracker includes an intentional gap between modules at the torque tube location that avoids shadowing on the backside of the module. Preliminary measurements have shown that up to 38 percent of reflected light does not reach the center of the bifacial modules compared to the edge due to the torque tube shadow of the 1x configuration. Array is quantifying the impact of the torque tube to harvestable rear side irradiance and testing modules with design characteristics that may use the torque tube as a performance advantage. All of Array’s test data will be compiled in an LCOE comparison.

The difference in testing isn’t really the point. The Lawrence Berkley National Lab noted during the Market Trends panel at Intersolar that the cost premium associated with tracker projects is all but gone with 79 percent of newly installed capacity being trackers. When all of this testing is done, the choice will still be the same centralized or distributed tracker decision its always been, just with these new bifacial performance gains to plug into the equation.

— Solar Builder magazine

APA Racking explains the value of turnkey providers for solar project managers

APA Ground screw

The following post is from APA Racking’s Solar Solutions blog series.

As timelines get delayed and projects overlap each other, project managers can quickly get overloaded by juggling multiple projects at once. Hiring more skilled project managers isn’t as easy as it seems with this skill set in high demand and a severe shortage of qualified individuals. Even with the best project control systems in place and utilizing dashboards, key performance indicators, and critical callout’s, the sheer time it takes to manage such systems can be daunting.

APA has seen more and more companies move toward a turnkey solution. By bringing the manufacturing and installation process under one roof, project managers can breathe a little easier. The turnkey delivery consolidates multiple contracts into a single point of accountability. The result should be certainty of schedule and cost, reduced contract execution time, minimizing change orders, faster decisions, and the ability to communicate with one individual for all things project related. About 80% of APA’s projects are turnkey, and even with material only sales, a project manager is assigned to every project to ensure a smooth process.

RELATED: When augers, ground screws make economic sense for solar contractors

APA is first and foremost a racking manufacturer, but has evolved into a full mechanical turnkey installation partner with many customers. APA works with the customer in the actual design of the project and can mitigate any construction related problems before breaking ground. Changes on paper are certainly easier and more cost-effective than after the installation has begun.

APA’s years as an installation partner provides insight that designers may not have. Issues such as working around underground utilities, topography adjustments, and variations in soil types can be addressed swiftly and creatively. Many times, APA can recommend using multiple foundations on a site to accommodate various soil types and manage costs.

For example, a proposal may include a helical foundation for 60% of the site and a ground screw for the remaining 40% due to areas with rock. The cost savings can be significant versus a 100% ground screw solution.

For the project manager, a mechanical turnkey solution means managing less subcontracts and more time for critical decisions at the highest level without being inundated with minute details. Real time project updates are sent daily and represent the entire project scope with design, manufacturing and installation.

— Solar Builder magazine