To Tracker or Not to Tracker: Why a One-Size Fits All Approach Can Limit Your Optimal Solar Production

May 31, 2017

Single Axis Tracker Fixed Tilt Hybrid ProjectIn the battle for ground mount market share, many would argue that single-axis trackers now rule the day, relegating the less-sophisticated fixed-tilt technology to second best.

There is good reason for this interpretation. After all, we saw over 14 GW of solar come online in 2016, the majority of which was utility scale ground-mount, and the majority of that was single-axis tracker. Single-axis trackers are dominating the solar market and this trend is expected to continue for at least the next few years (IHS).

Trackers increase the production of a site by 20+ percent over fixed-tilt. Not only will the site see increased annual production, but increased production during peak hours which provides added value in territories with Time-of-Use rates.

Tracker costs are also dropping significantly, partly due to price competition from suppliers and partly due to design innovations. For example, SunLink’s pioneering work in Dynamic Stabilization – intelligently changing the damping and stiffness of the array depending on real-time sensing – has allowed us to reduce the maximum torque in our TechTrack Distributed system by 67 percent, resulting in a lighter, more cost-effective tracker. Real-time sensing will enable further cost savings down the road as we collect data to inform structural analysis in a way that has not been possible until now.

Advancements in mechanical and electrical design and GWs worth of installations in the field are proving the quality and reliability of tracker systems. And performance monitoring platforms, like SunLink’s VERTEX, are enabling intelligent, efficient, less costly O&M.

Taking these factors in combination, utility scale single-axis tracking systems provide the lowest solar LCOE. When you broaden your perspective to include other renewable and conventional generation technologies, these systems are only undercut by certain wind and gas combined cycle projects (Lazard).

But don’t count fixed tilt systems out just yet.

As the solar market expands we are seeing an increased number of projects being developed on less than ideal sites – those with steep slopes or rolling terrain, irregular boundaries or obstructions, or unfavorable geotechnical conditions. If your site happens to be one of these more challenging sites, then a fixed-tilt solution, or a hybrid of tracker and fixed tilt, might be the most advantageous way to go.

Consider these facts. SunLink’s GeoPro fixed-tilt system is designed to handle variable surface and subsurface conditions. Where TechTrack Distributed is limited to slopes of 10 percent or less, GeoPro boasts and industry-leading 20 percent east-west terrain following capability on both constant slope and rolling terrain. Where TechTrack Distributed is most economical in rows of 90 modules, GeoPro has a smaller footprint with a max table size of 2×10 – a better fit in irregular boundaries and better equipped to flex around obstacles. Where TechTrack Distributed is currently limited to driven piles, GeoPro offers a choice of driven pile, groundscrew, helical pile, ballasted cast-in-place or a combination of any of the above – enabling installation in unfavorable soil conditions.

The key is to match the right technology to each unique project environment. But no matter the site challenges, SunLink’s team of experts can help you identify the mounting solution best suited to optimize your site’s energy density and improve your project economics.

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