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
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 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.
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.
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.