Evaluating Single-Axis Tracker Technology

May 1, 2015

The single-axis tracker market is on the rise in North America. It is estimated that single-axis trackers now represent more than 60 percent of all new ground mount projects in the U.S. A recent report from IHS expects this trend to continue, predicting the global revenue from single-axis trackers to reach nearly $2 billion by 2019.

Now seeing the ideal market dynamics for this technology, SunLink has charged into the tracker game by acquiring and launching the SunLink ViaSol Tracker (since renamed TechTrack). LinkUp recently chatted with SunLink’s new head of track technology Daniel Tarico, the architect behind the ViaSol tracker, to discuss the tracker market today.

“I have lived and breathed in the tracker space nearly a decade – the technology has come a long way.” Daniel notes. “The SunLink ViaSol tracker is actually the ninth iteration of this particular proven design. We’ve worked tirelessly to optimize the product not just in its components but the installation process too. Over the years we have been able to increase reliability while driving out costs, and now are able to layer on SunLink’s engineering and logistics expertise to deliver a premium product at a market-leading price.”

Why exactly is the tracker market so hot right now? Daniel feels there are three key factors driving the wholesale shift to single-axis trackers for ground mount projects:

One, the upwards of 20+ percent energy increase coupled with the overall quality and reliability of this technology is now very well proven in the field. People have simply gotten more comfortable with the advantages of trackers, and much like in Europe before us, this comfort has translated into market growth.

Two, costs have dropped significantly. The equation keeps getting better and better for trackers as module prices drop and efficiencies increase.

And three, trackers allow for maximum energy production not just midday, but also during the “shoulder” morning and evening hours.

“There are a lot of commonalities among single-axis tracker offerings in terms of power production and functionality. The real competitive differentiation lies with installation and long-term reliability. When it comes to tracker projects, it is all about reducing risk – both on the front end and for the life of the project,” concluded Daniel.

There are key technology approaches that vary from manufacturer to manufacturer that influence installation and reliability: the approach to the design and functionality of the bearings, actuator configurations, actuator mechanisms and control systems that drive the tracker’s movement.

“For example, the means to move the trackers, or actuation, can be centralized or distributed,” said Daniel. “We know that the mathematics for reliability is the fewer parts the better, which would lead one to believe that centralized actuation is always better. But as with everything, there is a trade off. Distributed actuation might actually be a better fit for a project that has uneven terrain as it can offer a very flexible layout. Of course, then you have more parts to install and maintain. There in lies the trade off.”

For more insights from Daniel as part of a full deep dive into how to weigh the costs and benefits of the tracker technologies on the market today, watch the SunLink webinar Lessons From the Field – Comparing Single-Axis Tracker Technology. If you prefer to read, check out Daniel’s article of the same title in Solar Builder magazine.

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