Mass-manufactured, Air Driven Trackers for Low Cost, High Performance Photovoltaic Systems

Lowering costs and improving performance of solar generation with an innovative solar PV tracking system

Sunfolding Inc.

Recipient

San Francisco, CA

Recipient Location

11th

Senate District

17th

Assembly District

beenhere

$989,116

Amount Spent

closed

Closed

Project Status

Projects Updates/The Results

The project team successfully installed and tested the 300kW PV tracking system in the field. The site was instrumented with sensors, cameras, and data collection equipment. The team installed distributed position sensors to gather temporal positioning and providing tracker consistency data, high accuracy air pressure sensors to assess pneumatic performance, and a video monitoring system to enable remote visual monitoring. The team collected data for more than six months and concluded that the system exceeded expectations in tracker performance, accuracy, and uptime. The team developed several generations of the actuator over the life of the project, which did not experience component failures during the demonstration activities. EPIC funding was critical to advancing Sunfolding's commercialization efforts, allowing to build a track record and establish reliability and bankability.

The Issue

Solar tracking has taken off in the last few years, but current tracker designs have limited options for additional cost reductions. The state of the art designs use a traditional approach of motors, gearboxes, and bearings. These components are manually assembled with high-cost materials, leading to limits in cost reduction and scale up. Further, this approach includes many points of failure and has high maintenance costs.

Project Innovation

The project aimed to install and test a 300 kW photovoltaic solar system with air-driven trackers. Two key technical innovations were demonstrated. First, the use of mass-manufacturing for the drive system results in an extremely low cost structure and very low part count. Second, only tubing is connected to each actuator, removing requirements for outdoor wiring or individual control hardware. The research involved collecting six months of performance data for the solar PV tracking technology.

Project Benefits

The PV solar tracking technology tested and validated in this project will result in ratepayer benefits of reduced cost of energy and increased energy supply reliability. The air-driven trackers not only reduce the direct product cost to the customers, but also simplify every step in the project lifecycle (i.e., development, construction, and operation). The reduced cost of energy will be achieved by the innovative solar tracking technology that adds 15-25% more power over fixed tilt systems at a cost that is well below the cost of current solar trackers. The increases in energy supply reliability will be achieved by delivering additional power that occurs in the late afternoon to the grid.

Lower Costs

Lower Costs

Sunfolding’s tracker drives down project costs, lowers LCOE, and improves project profitability. On a 100 MW site, Sunfolding’s team estimated a 20 percent improvement in LCOE over traditional trackers. The modular design enables flexible site layouts with a tracker that fits into odd-shaped sites, which can add up to 20% more capacity on a site. This significantly lowers fixed costs. Traditional trackers use more than 21 components while Sunfolding's tracker uses only three. By using fewer components, the system is installed 2x faster and with less chance for re-work or error.

Greater Reliability

Greater Reliability

Tracked solar PV systems increase the yield of a solar plant by 15–25% over fixed tilt systems. This provides additional benefits at the grid level. Unlike fixed tilt systems, tracked systems deliver the same amount of power regardless of the sun’s position and time of day. By capturing west-facing power in the late afternoon, tracked PV systems can soften, though not eliminate, ramping requirements.

Key Project Members

Project Member

Leila Madrone

Project Manager

Subrecipients

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