TerraSmart to open N.Y. office to support growing Northeast solar business

TerraSmart logo

In January 2018, TerraSmart, an innovator in ground mount racking solutions for utility-scale solar projects, will open an operational hub in Selkirk, New York. The 10,000 square-foot facility was strategically chosen to support its growing construction operations in the Northeast and will serve as a blueprint to set up future construction hubs across the country in locations where solar is expanding.

Situated on thirty acres of land, the multipurpose yet cutting-edge facility will provide efficient support to field operations nearby. The hub will house TerraSmart’s custom installation machines and be a service center for all of its machines and trucks, therefore aiding in quicker response time. The building will also serve as a training facility for all East Coast construction staff enabling them proper certification of TerraSmart’s proprietary install techniques. Additionally, the hub will act as a product showroom for clients to come view, learn and be trained on the vast products and machines TerraSmart utilizes to install a solar farm.

“It’s very satisfying to call Selkirk TerraSmart’s construction home. New York has been a great state for solar and we are looking forward to creating more solar jobs to support our expanding construction activities across the Northeast,” says TerraSmart CEO Ryan Reid. “The facilities’ design and purpose will serve as the blueprint of which TerraSmart will use to set up future construction hubs, thus supporting our continuous pursuit of enhancing the solar construction experience for our clients.”

Q&A: We get the inside scoop on Terrasmart’s new Robo-Surveyor

— Solar Builder magazine

Mounting Pressure: Today’s large-scale PV boom demands new levels of service from racking companies

Solar FlexRack

For the first time ever, in 2016, U.S. solar ranked as the No. 1 source of new electric generating capacity additions on an annual basis. In total, solar accounted for 39 percent of new capacity additions across all fuel types, and these big numbers are coming via big installs as the utility-scale segment grew 145 percent from 2015.

“In a banner year for U.S. solar, a record 22 states each added more than 100 MW,” says Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. solar research. “While U.S. solar grew across all segments, what stands out is the double-digit gigawatt boom in utility-scale solar, primarily due to solar’s cost competitiveness with natural gas alternatives.”

The trend shows no signs of reversing, and as utility-scale solar projects continue to boom, the industry demand for material and logistical services will keep increasing pressure on suppliers like never before.

Raw materials bottleneck

“It’s a simple matter of supply and demand,” says Chuck Galbreath, VP of supply chain at SunLink. “If I have more time, I can find more options and drive down costs. When schedules are compressed and I’m forced into a tight delivery window, I have to go with the supplier who is able to deliver in the time allotted, which allows less room for negotiation.”

Others agree: “We often encounter requests for expedited finished product that can be more aggressive than the lead times from the steel mills. For our proprietary racking systems, OMCO is now maintaining a responsible level of steel inventory to support these instances,” states Todd Owen, General Manager of OMCO Solar.

The time pinch has led to more in-house manufacturing. “The top five racking manufacturers have reached economies of scale where additional volume no longer decreases price, forcing manufacturers to vertically integrate by producing more parts and material in-house,” says Paul Benvie, VP of engineering at TerraSmart.

Because the sector is so dependent upon the steel market, finished product pricing can be volatile. The recent anti-dumping lawsuits spurred market increases that were felt in all steel industries, including solar. Benvie says TerraSmart has countered the pricing roller coaster by making strategic hedge buys and leaning on suppliers to honor and hold pricing so they are capable of manufacturing product at a reliable price point.

To help combat delivery delays, more mounting companies also are establishing regional centers. “Steel delivered to and from opposite coasts can have a significant impact on costs and schedules,” Benvie says. “Strategic manufacturers have set up facilities that are centrally located and/or have different branches at opposite ends of the country. For example, TerraSmart has opened a new manufacturing facility in Columbus, Ohio, and can manufacture identical parts out of the Southeast, Southwest and New England.”

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

Timelines keep shrinking

“As the solar industry matures and adopts the more typical rigid large-scale construction approach to project schedules, timelines have been compressed and suppliers are now expected to adhere to strict, tight daily schedules,” says Nick Troia, VP of corporate quality and project management at SunLink. “It is a more professional atmosphere that in some cases is straining the less sophisticated suppliers.”

The compression is substantial: “We ask customers for a 12-week lead time, but in this market we are lucky if we get eight,” says Larry Reeves, a project manager for Array Technologies Inc. (ATI). “Schedules are crazy now.”

Seasonal variations also intensify weather constraints. “The solar industry is challenging, as many financiers, developers and EPCs push to close projects out in Q4,” Benvie says. “In New England, this can be increasingly challenging with projects kicking off as the daylight hours get shorter, temperatures drop and field conditions deteriorate.”

“Without getting into the dollars and cents, delays can be very costly, such as the triggering of liquidated damages that could accumulate at thousands of dollars per day or by hindering project completion for a tax credit deadline,” observes Troia.

Losses can be the cost of customer maintenance, too. In some of these unavoidable situations, someone involved in the project has to recognize and proactively eliminate a delay before it happens.

“We believe we are truly partners with our clients, so we commonly shoulder costs or increase productivity to minimize the sting of a delay, regardless of who caused it,” Benvie says.

Next, we look at the turnkey services and systems designed for saving time on project development.

— Solar Builder magazine

Check out TerraSmart’s new fleet of solar site-mapping drones

TerraSmart keeps on churning out futuristic site mapping technology for the solar industry that focuses on automation and speed. First was this automated surveying robot (which we will have more on in our Jan/Feb issue), and now the company is hyping up its new FAA-certified High Precision Aerial Site Mapping (HPASM) service.

Terrasmart drone solar site map

TerraSmart’s High Precision Aerial Site Mapping drone.

TerraSmart says the HPASM is able to cover 50-80 acres per each hour of flight time, allowing a site of 5 MW to be completely mapped with the data processed in only 48 hours. HPASM identifies trouble spots before sites are cleared, mitigating problems early to better manage risks and contain costs.

Possible benefits of this service include:

• Speeding project velocity
• Increasing accuracy and eliminating human error
• Delivering a complete site topography very early in construction to simplify pre-engineering
• Capturing aerial photography to produce orthomosaics & 3D models with an absolute accuracy down to 1 inch

“Our new High Precision Aerial Site Mapping service allows TerraSmart to complete the topographic map with phenomenal quality and accuracy,” says Ryan Reid, TerraSmart CEO. “Greater efficiency in designing systems for our clients allows us to increase project velocity so that systems get on-line to generate profits faster.”

You can get more info on TerraSmart’s drone technology here.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar Builder Project of The Year Winner: Moapa Southern Paiute Solar

Moapa Southern Paiute Solar

Category: Ground-Mount (utility-scale)
Moapa, Nev. | 353 MW

20160518-2016-05-18-09.30

You may remember this project first appearing in our Sept./Oct. issue in which we highlighted the importance of the ground screws in completing the project. It was entered into the Project of the Year awards shortly thereafter and received the most votes in the utility-scale category. So, let’s get reacquainted with it, shall we?

Located 45 minutes northeast of Las Vegas is the Moapa Indian Reservation and tribal members of the Moapa Band of Paiutes are motivated to make better, more sustainable use of their available land. As the Dakota Access Pipeline debacle has revealed, the energy sector doesn’t always treat tribal lands with much respect, and the Moapa Band of Paiutes tribal members have fought for years to close a nearby coal-burning power plant that releases coal ash into their land and could very likely be causing a rise in asthma and other health issues.

Pursuing a renewable energy future here is beneficial beyond economic impact because reliable solar energy that closes this coal plant could change lives.

ttTaming with a screw

The Moapa land is both sacred and severe. The biggest challenge for installing a massive solar array here comes from a soil combination fused together by limestone called caliche, which is typically found in South America.

Encountering a 12- to 24-in. layer of caliche in the United States was an unexpected twist and, to compound the issue, there was about 8 to 12 in. of light sand. This combination was an issue for both typical driven piles and standard surveying methods, and according to project developer Moapa Southern Paiute Solar LLC (a subsidiary of First Solar Electric LLC) both were overcome with the help of TerraSmart solutions.

We highlighted the value of the 128,000 ground screws in Sept./Oct. for being a cost-effective solution that accelerated the installation of the fixed-tilt mounting sysem that supports 3,209,091 modules on 2,000 acres in tough caliche terra.

Because of the loose sand and the requirement to leave as much sacred land unharmed as possible, accuracy was important when pinpointing pile location. So, instead of the standard surveying method of staking points, TerraSmart’s software engineers developed a proprietary software to survey/drill at the project site. This software loaded the rock-drill machines with the coordinates to locate foundation points, and drilling was completed without disturbing unnecessary land and saving money for the developers.

“We were pleased with how respectful the company was of the Moapa land and people,” Moapa Solar stated. “It was unusual for companies to take so much care not to disturb the sacred spaces around the array.”

Check out the other 2016 Project of the Year Winners

20160518-2016-05-18-16.07Power to the people

The project used First Solar’s advanced photovoltaic (PV) thin-film solar modules and is predicted to generate enough clean solar energy to serve approximately 100,000 homes per year, displacing approximately 178,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually — the equivalent of taking about 34,000 cars off the road. It will also include an onsite substation and a new 5.5-mile 500-kV transmission line that will connect to the existing Crystal Substation serving energy users in California. Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project has a power-purchase agreement (PPA) with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to deliver clean, solar energy for 25 years.

In the end, the project was delivered on time and on budget and became the first utility-scale solar plant on U.S. tribal lands.

— Solar Builder magazine

Survey your next solar site with this autonomous robot from TerraSmart #SPI

APSR robot survey Terrasmart

TerraSmart may have revolutionized solar site surveying at Solar Power International this year, introducing a fully autonomous robot, called the Autonomous Precision Survey Rover (APSR), that will handle survey stake-out functions (booth 2145).

“Our main goal is to increase the velocity and accuracy with which we survey. A typical survey crew can locate up to 200 points per day, but with ASPR we can do over 1,300 points a day,” says TerraSmart Systems Design Manager Chase Anderson. “We are excited to bring NASA space rover technology to the world of photovoltaic construction. It eliminates human error, saves time, and cuts project construction costs for our clients.”

A larger model than the one at SPI will be introduced in Q1 of 2017 that adds drilling capabilities to the autonomous survey technology. The company has plans to deploy three ASPRs on a 42 megawatt site located in Shoreham, NY in mid-October.

RELATED: How TerraSmart’s new racking-plus-ground-screw solution reduces costs 

APSR features include:

– APSR is powered with a gas/electric hybrid drive system, allowing it to run 24/7 if required
– Designed for all-terrain use with “slope awareness” for undulating sites, APSR includes a geometric passive articulation suspension system, 24-inch tires and a 10-inch ground clearance
– APSR travels at a maximum speed of 11 mph with a maximum incline of 45 degrees
– Version two of APSR, coming in the first quarter of 2017, will be able to survey and drill holes with a two-inch diameter and a maximum depth of 20 feet within a half-inch tolerance
– APSR operates using line-of-sight wireless control, as well as Real Time Kinematics (RTK) GPS that increases its precision, accuracy, and speed

“Over the years, we have partnered with some of the most advanced survey equipment and software companies to design and deploy proprietary surveying tools that reduce installation time for solar ground mount systems. Today, with our U.S. exclusive launch of the ASPR, we continue to innovate with the use of RTK GPS technology and other proprietary software developed in-house,” says Ryan Reid, TerraSmart CEO.

How does it work?

Autonomous robots are programmed by skilled operators and APSR is no exception. The engineering team loads coordinate files onto an Android tablet, making them accessible to the APSR operator to create “missions” for each project site. APSR’s operator can prioritize work by site conditions and can even save and replay missions at any time. Once the operator provides the commands, APSR will survey each programmed location.

Safety comes first with APSR. A four-level safety system is built into the autonomous vehicle that can stop the rover in its tracks up to a half-mile away. The operator can also hit a kill switch on his belt; there is a power-down command on the companion Android tablet; and APSR shuts itself down if it tips over or if it travels outside of its operating area.

— Solar Builder magazine