Over the last year, the state of Florida has seen an unprecedented boom in its large-scale solar market. In late 2016 Florida Power & Light announced that it would build three 74.5 MW-AC solar projects to replace a coal plant, and followed that with eight more large utility-scale solar projects.
This move was echoed by most of the state’s large utilities, with Tampa Electric, Duke Energy Florida and the Jacksonville Electric Authority each announcing plans to build hundreds of megawatts of large-scale solar. In the process, Florida jumped from the 9th-largest to the third-largest solar market in the United States in 2017.
But the work to build and supply these projects is just beginning. Today GameChange Solar announced that it has received multiple orders over the past week to supply fixed-tilt racking and trackers for 350 MW of solar projects in the state, representing $20-30 million in contracts.
These racking and tracking systems will supply projects in both the northern and southern parts of Florida, with most of the projects in the north-central region. Racking will represent 60% of the product to be delivered, a reversal of the company’s overall ratio of tracking to racking that it expects to ship over the course of 2018.
GameChange expects to fill these orders over the next two months. Derick Botha, the company’s director of business development, notes that the ability to quickly ramp to meet demand is due to the company’s manufacturing strategy. GameChange utilizes dedicated lines located in the facilities of other manufacturers, instead of its own factories.
Steel prices rising
Botha says that at this point he is not seeing any delays in projects due to the Section 201 tariffs, as everyone either has modules stockpiled or to have settled on prices with suppliers.
However, he says that uncertainty in steel prices is hitting the racking and tracking sector. While steel tariffs have not yet been implemented under the Section 232 process, in anticipation of tariffs manufacturers have begun shifting procurement to U.S. steel, and U.S. steel makers have been raising prices.
GameChange stockpiles steel to be able to fill orders, and says that it has enough on hand to fabricate enough product to fill these orders. “We’ve always had steel available,” GameChange’s Botha told pv magazine.
However, Botha estimates that prices for U.S. steel have risen 40% since last October, which is putting pressure on both GameChange and other racking and tracking makers. “The only way to mitigate that is to look at how you try to engineer some costs out of your product,” notes Botha. “We’re looking at that.”
However, there is only so much room here. “It’s been a real serious hit,” says Botha. “We’ve seen the price increase going up every single week. And the tariffs haven’t even been applied.”