Canadian Solar Tracker Invades Northern US — #CleanTechnica at #SPI2018


October 2nd, 2018 by Charles W. Thurston 


Canadian solar tracker company GP Joule is headed across the border to sell turnkey solar farms in 10 targeted US states across the country this year, says David Pichard, the director and executive officer of the Toronto-based company. His company has already been selling its Phlegon brand solar tracker systems in Minnesota for community solar projects, and other solar projects in Hawaii and Nevada.

The tracker system was on display at the 2018 Solar Power International show in Anaheim last week.

One area of expertise the company has developed in the cold Canadian climate is in foundation engineering, with a current design that utilizes about 60% fewer piles — or as few as 250 per megawatt — than general US tracker competition, despite the use of about 20% more steel, he notes. The tracker also uses 15% fewer piles than a competing standard fixed-tilt design, he suggests.

One of the post solutions often used in Canada is a helical post, which can navigate both frozen ground and isolated rocks.

“We decided to design a tracker that is more robust above the ground, instead of spending a lot of money digging holes for additional piles,” Pichard says. GP Joule has filed for patents on its solutions for snow accumulation, which can render some tracker designs useless after a storm.

“Our foundation options bring cost-effective tracking to landfills, rocky terrains, or soils with freeze/thaw conditions,” the tracker spec sheet indicates. Among other post designs offered are ground screws, ballasted, micro-piles and driven I-beams.

Reducing installation costs

Another area of design focus has been on reducing labor costs, particularly that of electricians that some tracker companies use to install all components that carry electricity on the linked drive system. “Instead, we are pre-fabricating the system so that it drops in on top of the torque tube, eliminating a lot of field assembly hours,” Pichard adds. He claims that the installation time for a similar sized team is half for his pre-assembled design, compared with in-field assembly. Time studies will be conducted soon to have an independent analyst quantify the claim, he says.

Thus far, GP Joule is focused on supplying single-axis solar trackers to the utility market segment, but a version of the tracker redesigned for the residential market is expected out by January, adds Fabienne Rodet, the company director of marketing, based in Los Gatos.

Another element of the company’s sales efforts in the United States soon will be operations and maintenance services, which GP Joule already provides in some European locations.

Two panel table options

The tracker table comes in two variations, a two-panel by eight-panel portrait orientation, or a four-panel by four-panel array.

Future features of the tracker may include use of bifacial solar panels, currently the rage in the US market. The company has already designed a support system that will minimize shading from reflected light, or albedo, the key advantage for bifacial panels. Depending on many installation variables, bifacial panels currently are being tested with an energy yield boost above monofacial panels on the order of 7 to 15%, but that range is expected to double.

International standards on how to test bifacial panels will not be published until January, after which time, tracker companies and panel makers will be more compelled to compare apples to apples when touting a bifacial boost.

Either configuration of the table will operate across an ambient temperature range of -35 degrees Celsius to +50 degrees. The structures will withstand up to 2.8 kilopascals (kPa), of snow and 0.7 kPa of wind. The tracker is warrantied for 20 years.

GP Joule began installing solar energy projects in Germany in 2003, and has installed solar in France and Italy as well. The company is also involved in wind, biomass, energy storage and EV charging technologies. The company now has over 550 MW of solar photovoltaics installed, and over 600 MW of renewable energy assets under management.

In Germany, GP Joule ‘s operations are split between four locations. The European headquarters is located the Reußenköge, in Schleswig-Holstein state, at the Danish border. There are two technical centers in southern Germany, including conceptualization, research and development at Buttenwiesen, and  EPC services for photovoltaics, biomass and wind projects at the Geislingen an der Steige power plant. Subsidiary H-TEC, which focuses on storage and renewable technology education, is located in Lübeck.

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