solar system benefits

Carefree O&M – Part 1 – Count Your Sheep

Carefree O&M – Part 1 – Count Your Sheep

Carefree O&M - Part 1 - Count your Sheep

By Sun Action Trackers

As Operations and Maintenance becomes a hotter topic in the Solar and Solar Tracking industry, there has been many approaches to lower costs and minimize risk in the design and installation of solar farms.  There have been a wide variety of approaches in each area of solar farm O&M costs and savings.  In this article, we will discuss a practice that is becoming more common amongst utility scale solar farm developers across the country.

Options for Land Operations and Maintenance (O&M)

During the development of utility scale solar farms, there are so many operational parts in motion that if the land had not been graded and trampled, that it will be before the installation is done.  The sites are often left looking bare and lacking grass as the project installation heads near completion.  Not too far after however, mother nature takes over and grass starts growing and spreading quickly.  This creates the need for landscaping services and workers to maintain the acres and acres of property to ensure proper functionality of the system.

The Old Fashion Way

Many developers choose to periodically mow the property which takes multiple days and workers, while creating risks that need not be created.  Some of the inherent risks include but are not limited to:

  • Flying Objects – While mowing properties this vast, it is likely that at some point something will be struck by the mowers. This could be something natural such as a rock, or something left behind from development such as a nut or bolt.  This creates a risk to workers, but also to the solar farm itself, by cracking or shattering panels that then would need to be replaced.
  • Dust/Sand – Mowers also kick up quite a bit of dust no matter what the condition of the soil and property is. This sand and dust settles on the panels, making them less efficient and creates the need for the panels to be cleaned more frequently.

Though this method is widely adopted many developers are looking for alternative methods to lower O&M costs and to minimize financial risk on each project.

Genetically Modified Flora

One of these alternative methods is to plant “low growing grass” which has been genetically engineered to grow to a certain height and stop.  This method has proven to be effective in some areas, but the major drawback is weeds.  As the grass grows, weeds become an inevitable part of the landscape.  Since the weeds will never stop growing, this again creates the need for human intervention on a constant and continuous basis causing a hike in O&M costs. Another option in modifying the landscape is using herbicides and chemicals to keep the grass and weeds at bay.  This option works but it is contrary to the “eco-friendly” passion that renewable energy harvesting is based on.  Though this may be a viable solution, it creates risk to the environment and surrounding areas.

Keep it "Simple Solar" (KISS)

The simplest solution in solar is usually the best.  Systems are designed with minimal moving parts and are highly engineered to maximize efficiency and lower O&M costs.  Why wouldn’t you look for the simplest solution when it comes to land O&M costs?  Many solar farm developers from California, Texas, North and South Carolina and even Europe are adopting a simple and hyper-effective solution that is lowering land O&M costs and providing opportunities for the local economy and is completely eco-friendly.

Send in the Sheep

The aforementioned solution that has been adopted globally is the use of livestock, preferably sheep to maintain your land for you during the harvesting of your solar energy.  Sheep are low maintenance requiring only water and food, which is the growing grass in most solar farms.  States like California and North Carolina have widely adopted this solution and are showing incremental decreases in land O&M costs, while creating a thriving industry for farmers in the local economies surrounding their solar farms.  In North Carolina, there are sheep farmers that will even offer their flock for free for use at the solar farms in return for the free food that their flock consumes.

Environmentally and Financially Symbiotic Relationships

Not only is this method environmentally friendly, but it also creates more revenue through shared resources and legal loopholes.  In many states developers are charged an Energy Tax for the land usage, whereas agricultural land is not subject to the same taxing.  This creates a revenue increase from the partnership between farmer and developer.  It also saves the farmers money due to a seemingly unlimited food source.  The marriage between farmer and developer is truly a symbiotic one as both parties have much to gain, while also lowering costs on both sides.  On the environmental side, both parties are allowing nature to run its course while causing no harm to the land or the surrounding areas.  It also allows the developer to “cut the cord” of reliance on fossil fuels for land O&M, which we are sure that mother nature welcomes.

Not Just a Developer Farmer Relationship

Since the development of these relationships major brands have gotten involved bringing the process full circle.  Whole Foods, a national organic grocery market started selling “solar farm sheep” when it started selling lamb chops of sheep that had been exclusively raised on Solar Farms.  Sun Raised Farms is the name of the company that landed the opportunity with Whole Foods, providing their lamb chops exclusively for the nation’s healthiest supermarket.  The buying motivation for Whole Foods is that the sheep are essentially free range, raised organically in expansive open spaces.

Key Takeaways

Many of the solar farm developers in North America are beginning to use sheep to graze and maintain their solar farms.  The sheep are low cost and even free in some cases, creating a relationship between farmer and developer where everyone wins.  Financially it makes sense to use sheep as there are available tax breaks, unlimited food for the animals and no need to O&M risks by using machinery, human labor, and chemicals.  In Solar Energy Harvesting, simplicity is key to lowering O&M costs and minimizing risk.

Posted by Jonathan Bunting in Community, home news, Products, Residential Solar Trackers, solar system benefits, solar tracking, 0 comments
O&M Comparison on Fixed Tilt vs. Single Axis

O&M Comparison on Fixed Tilt vs. Single Axis

O&M Comparison on Fixed Tilt vs. Single Axis

By Sun Action Trackers

In this short overview, we will be discussing the Operations and Maintenance cost difference between Single Axis Solar Trackers, and Fixed Tilt Solar Array Solutions.  First and foremost, there is not a defined answer to many of the questions surrounding the upkeep time and costs since each system is different, just as each project site is different and so on.  Rather than take a generalized position on these topics, Sun Action Trackers understands that each and every single axis tracker solution that is installed is absolutely unique in and of itself.  In many situations, single axis solar trackers will be the solution that will best fit the project, while dual axis solar trackers may be of better use in other scenarios.  Let’s take a look at some of the hard-pressing questions that surround this area of conversation.

We were recently working with a Developer that asked if the increased O&M costs on a single axis solar tracker were offset by the performance of the array.  In this particular deployment, the answer was yes, making the additional cost justified.  There are a number of factors that are in play in any development project that need to be noted as well.  Some of these factors are:

  • Geography and Topography – Site design
  • Location – level of irradiant light, snow, etc.
  • PPA – How much are they receiving per KWh, MWh, etc.
  • Time Sensitive Matters – Current price of Steel, Copper, and other commodities

In this Developer’s case, it made sound financial sense to opt for the single axis solar tracker system rather than fixed tilt due to the increase in productivity vs. cost to operate and maintain the system.  This then raised another major question being discussed industry wide at this point.  Centralized or Decentralized Movement Systems?  This refers to whether or not each row is joined by linkage or whether each row moves independently of one another.

There are two major sides to this part of the conversation, which are both significant.  Sun Action Trackers offers a linked row system in our PST-1AX6 single axis solar trackers.  This eliminates a large percentage of moving and electro-mechanical parts in comparison to “decentralized” system designs.  By lowering the moving parts, it creates a more stable and efficient system.  This is achieved by linking 6 rows to a single link rod that pushes all 6 rows in unison.  That means 1 actuator motor can run 324 solar panels to track the sun simultaneously.  In comparison, decentralized systems use multiple sets of sensors, separate control boxes and multiple motors which create exponential opportunity for failure.  These “decentralized” systems could also take as many as 4 times the slew or actuators drive motors, sensors and control boxes, to achieve the same output as its centralized counterpart.  As you can imagine, the centralized single axis solar tracker solution offers greater dependability due to less electro-mechanical parts, leading to less potential for breakdown.  With less electro-mechanical parts and motors, centralized single axis trackers will also be easier to find pieces and parts for moving forward since they are built out of mostly existing parts, as compared to some decentralized solutions that offer complex circuitry multiplied by the number of rows installed.   Over time, this will also drive the O&M costs down as the solar industry continues to grow in adoption rates, and investors are more comfortable with this cutting-edge technology.  Innovation will also play a major role as single axis solar tracker systems become even more efficient and streamlined.

With all of that being said, we believe in the application of the KISS METHOD when it comes to single axis solar trackers.  KEEP IT SIMPLE SOLAR.  Less means more.

Posted by Jonathan Bunting in Actuator, component, Dual Axis Tracker, Products, real time sensor, Residential Solar Trackers, slew drive, solar system benefits, solar tracking, 0 comments
Simplicity in Solar: Tracking Options Made Easy

Simplicity in Solar: Tracking Options Made Easy

Simplicity in Solar: Tracking Options Made Easy

By Sun Action Trackers

Fixed Tilt Solar Solutions

Fixed tilt, or Non-tracking systems have long since been around and have until recently been the standard installation choice for developers and EPCs alike.  Many adopted this choice due to the cost difference in tracking solutions vs. fixed tilt solutions and the profitability of the installation consequently.  Fixed tilt systems offer some installation advantages, as they can be used in more difficult/ challenging  terrain. Historically, fixed tilt systems are also more adaptable to harsher environments due to lack of moving parts.

Solar Tracking Solutions

Tracking solutions for solar energy collection started to be introduced since the inception of solar, but much like other areas of alternative energy production, the technology was highly expensive and sometimes unreliable.  In comparison to the fixed axis solutions, tracking will produce up to 20%-45% more energy than its non-tracked counterparts, while now finally making sense financially due to cost reductions and rising adoption rates of the technology. Tracked solutions also offer a reduction in D/C capacity which allows for a reduction in BOS, Modules, and additional racking, getting better performance than their fixed counterparts.  In a late 2016 report, GTM Research estimates that tracking solutions will grow from roughly 20% this year to nearly 50% by 2021.  Tracking solutions continue to evolve as well into two sub categories:

Single Axis Tracking

As the name implies, this is a tracking solution with a single hinged axis to track the sun East to West.  This option requires a North-South alignment to maximize the sun’s energy throughout the day.  Compared to a fixed tilt system, there have been various increases shown ranging from 17-23% depending on the latitude and irradiance of the system.

Dual Axis Tracking

Though Dual Axis tracking has been around essentially as long as its Single Axis relative, it has been often overlooked as the most valuable of options when dealing with utility grade projects.  The Alamo Projects in Texas are a great example of this, as there are over 40,000 Dual Axis Trackers in operation today.  This large-scale adoption has led to expansive growth in this market as well, with suited applications in more diverse weather conditions.

In Closing

Fixed tilt and Tracking solutions will both have a place in solar energy generation in the future.  As the technology advances and performance increases, tracking solutions will become the standard for solar energy generation due to higher efficiency and a justifiable cost increase.

We hope you have enjoyed reading our second installment of Simplicity in Solar.  If you have any further questions, please feel free to CONTACT US today for more information on our Solar Energy Tracking Solutions.

Posted by Jonathan Bunting, 0 comments
A Personal View : Simplicity in Solar

A Personal View : Simplicity in Solar

A Personal View: Simplicity in Solar

By Daniel Wilson, Senior Electrical Engineer at Sun Action Trackers

When I was younger and pondering the idea of going to school for engineering, I asked a very successful engineer what I should expect to learn from studying engineering at university. I expected something along the line of “you will be able to fix cars after you graduate” or “you will be better at math”. Instead he told me that I would see the world through a new set of eyes. It wasn’t until I graduated university that I understood what he meant. With fresh new eyes, I now saw the world through the laws of physics, cause/effect and that the most robust solutions are usually the simplest. A simple solution is by no means inferior, rather it simply accomplishes the same task as a complex solution, but in a more efficient way.

At Sun Action Trackers, we know that simplicity in PV tracker design is essential, as these systems will be operating continuously, outdoors for 25+ years. Our Single and Dual Axis trackers all utilize our patented Real-Time Sensor technology that searches the sky for the maximum point of irradiance. Why blindly follow the sun with a program that doesn’t even consider the fact that clouds are between the tracker and the sun, when you could just simply rotate where the energy is actually at? Real-Time sensing is simpler, gives you higher generation, and doesn’t ever need to be calibrated. Trackers have to move, so some type of bearing is integral to the system. Once again, in the spirit of making things simple through ingenuity, we have designed flexible bearings that can account for post misalignment and require zero O&M greasing for the entire life of the project.

All of our trackers utilize low voltage DC motors that are readily available. I have worked for a tracking company that uses hydraulic actuation instead, and I don’t miss having to search for pin-hole leaks on 100ft. long cables, praying that the leak isn’t occurring underground if I can’t find it the first pass. I also don’t miss maintaining pumps, changing the oil, replacing clogged pistons, lines that were never bled properly, or wildlife that somehow makes its way through the an 8ft. fence just to chew on the hydraulic lines. Our Single Axis tracker houses 4x more modules than the leading competitor. This means 4x less control boxes, sensors and motors that need to be maintained over the course of 25+ years. Additionally, our UL3703 certified Single Axis tracker can electrically bond over 320 modules within its structure so that you have 4x less grounding electrodes to worry about installing than with the leading 80-module tracker.

Posted by Jonathan Bunting in Actuator, component, components, Products, real time sensor, slew drive, solar system benefits, solar tracking, staff team, 0 comments
Benefits of a commercial solar system

Benefits of a commercial solar system

Benefits of a Commercial Solar System

By Sun Action Trackers

Solar systems are becoming an increasingly common feature in new homes. Many homeowners are also retrofitting their current homes as well so that they can enjoy the benefits of using the power of the sun. What about your commercial ventures, though? Does it make sense to invest in a commercial solar system for your business? You bet, and here are three benefits you can enjoy by doing so.

Financial Benefits

Commercial solar systems might be a slightly more expensive method of managing your business’s energy needs, at first, but soon it pays for itself. It is also possible to take advantage of tax breaks and perhaps even special financing, that is reserved for commercial spaces that want to upgrade to solar systems. These tax breaks would reduce the cost of installation and the solar panels themselves. Due to the large footprint that a commercial building tends to have, there is naturally more roof space to install a solar system. This, in turn, leads to a more positive dividend from the investment in the form of energy that a business can utilize.

The positive financial benefits are most evident in the form of monthly savings on your utility bill. Due to how commercial solar systems work, it is possible for your business to see a reduction of 50 percent or more in your energy costs. If your business produces more energy than it uses, you could obtain a credit on your utility bill — or even receive payment for excess energy.

Environmental Benefits

More industries and businesses are moving toward more environmentally-friendly business practices. Whether your industry is one that expects its members to be ecologically sound or your business can be a leader within the movement, commercial solar systems provide a method of obtaining that goal. By reducing your business’s carbon footprint with the installation of solar panels, you are cutting back on the fossil fuels that are used to fuel your needs for energy.

Long Range Benefits

Installing commercial solar systems is not some quick fix whose advantages are short-sighted. Instead, a business who invests in this type of forward-thinking technological advance is planning for a viable future that helps position them to reach their goals more quickly and completely. Your business will gain a reputation for being environmentally friendly and forward thinking. The financial benefits of generating your energy don’t just end after a year or two. They can also have a compounding effect. The components of high-quality commercial solar systems ensure that they are low maintenance and high yield. Not only that but they are designed to effectively resist corrosion, ensuring that they will last for decades.

Sun Action Trackers provides the solar tracking products and tools to help you lead the way into succeeding with your next project goal. Talk to our experts, and see how much you can save!

Posted by Ana Morales in solar system benefits, solar tracking, 0 comments