Many single-axis solar tracker manufacturers are developing new iterations of carousel racks that can be installed in rough terrain, unlocking the potential for large-scale solar development in hilly areas.
Historically, the ideal environment for single-axis solar tracker projects has been flatter land that requires little or no geotechnical preparation. No land parcel is perfectly flat, and the value of land that nearly fits that description is increasing in both demand and cost.
When developers don’t have to grade land, they can shorten the permitting process, leave native vegetation intact, and prevent erosion. Skipping grading also means developers spend less on site preparation.
“We heard from our customers and they needed help,” said Erica Brinker, chief commercial officer and ESG officer at Array Technologies. Some really progressive developers don’t want to mess with the terrain, they don’t want to change the environment.”
Last year alone, three of the largest single-axis solar tracker manufacturers announced unique solutions for deploying these solar projects over rough terrain. Array Technologies Debuts omni track; Released by Nextracker NX Horizon-XTR; developed by Nevados Engineering all terrain tracker.
Each system has a different drive mechanism and row structure, so they deal differently with uneven terrain. All systems also promise shorter foundation pile lengths.
Nevados’ All Terrain Tracker has articulated bearings on the foundation that allow each panel bay to be mounted at various angles while maintaining rotation. Nextracker’s NX Horizon-XTR features a 0.75° undulation tolerance between piles and an 8.5° total slope tolerance.
Array’s DuraTrack single-axis trackers can be adjusted by 1° per pile so they can be placed on uneven surfaces. Unlike Nevados and Nextracker, Array’s tracker rotates using an inter-row drive line, so the hurdle of working on uneven terrain is adjusting the pile height and increasing the number of motors in the block. That was it.
“It’s a shift in thinking about torque tubes, because we’re asking the same torque tubes to do different things,” says Brinker. “Motor blocks produce more torque when they move at different angles instead of in a straight line. You want more functionality from those parts.”
Thanks to this new built-in tilt tolerance, the deployment of single-axis solar trackers will undoubtedly increase in hilly areas in the coming years. Nextracker has already deployed NX Horizon-XTR in more than 2 GW of projects, and Array’s OmniTrack will hit the market in 2023.
“Our customers tell us that this presents a huge opportunity,” said Brinker. “They haven’t quantified it for us, but there are many places where it was once thought impossible to install solar, especially for utility-scale projects that require large amounts of land. solar sites, they say there is an incredible opportunity to allow more locations, especially with the timing of the IRA bill. I feel like I have a long enough runway to do.”