Blog Story

Tipping the BOS Scale: Innovations In Solar Tracking

29. September 2021

Philipp Klemm

CEO at Ideematec, Inc.

 

Solar costs have sharply declined over the past decade. The levelized cost of energy for utility-scale solar decreased by 82% between 2010 and 2019. People often cite efficiency improvements from photovoltaics and inverters as the main cause for cost declines. But innovations in balance of system (BOS) costs, the components of a PV system other than the modules and inverters, play an essential role in making sure a utility-scale system will pencil––BOS costs typically represent around 70% of the levelized cost of energy for solar PV. Advancements in racking in particular, are worth paying attention to, given their impact on overall system design, labor, and long term operations and maintenance (O&M). Fortunately, the dog days of clunky, large, hard to install racking equipment are over—solar trackers have evolved into sophisticated components of the system that cut labor hours, lower operating costs, and improve efficiency. 

 

Consolidated Hardware

Tracking companies are constantly engineering new ways to require fewer materials for construction. We’ve designed a decoupled drive that isolates the motor from the module wing and distributes the load to the foundational posts, away from the modules and the motor. Because of this, there are less posts required to support the load, and ultimately, our trackers require up to 4x fewer foundations and gearboxes than standard tracking systems.

 

Designed for O&M

Especially for large utility scale solar projects in remote locations, autonomous O&M upkeep is important for keeping systems performing at peak production levels. Our decoupled drive technology allows our trackers to support module wings with two-module-in-portrait (2P) that span up to 180 meters in length––a significant advantage compared with many alternative solution providers. This not only translates into more watts per row, but it also means fewer, longer rows of modules. Robotic maintenance systems perform well with this configuration, as the robots can seamlessly slide across the long, continuous module wing. Because of the long module wings, our projects require 3-4x fewer robots, saving on maintenance time and optimizing energy performance.

 

Weather-Proof Protection

With ever intensifying climate conditions, it is essential to design trackers that will withstand extreme weather events. Our trackers can be stowed- and locked at a zero degree (or horizontal) position, which protects the entire array against torsional galloping and keeps solar modules away from heavy pressure loads when stowing against the wind. This also means that each motor experiences 40% less velocity pressure, extending the lifetime of the array and lowering operational costs. Each of Ideematec’s tracker systems have the strength to secure XL modules in place against up to 180 mph winds. Larger scale modules also mean reduced load allowances from manufacturers. A comprehensive stowing strategy seems to become more important as our industry progresses.

 

Optimized for Sun Exposure

 

Lastly, and most fundamentally, trackers must be designed to optimize the highest energy yield. Supporting 2P configurations means we can mount more panels per tracker. We also neatly accommodate bifacial modules and have designed our trackers to reduce shading and maximize exposure to the back side of bifacial panels to squeeze as much generation as possible from every panel.

 

Solar trackers are not often thought of as the beacon of innovation. Yet solar trackers are the foundation for the biggest solar projects across the world. With more than 50 patents under our belt, we’ve been pushing the boundaries of BOS innovation and preparing for the boom of clean energy projects expected in the coming decade.