It’s not a stretch to say that the world of utility-scale solar development is run by trackers. By upping a project’s capacity factor, trackers allow modules to generate more power, allowing for less modules to be used in a project and overall lower overhead costs.
As successful as trackers have been in the utility space, that dominance has not applied to residential and commercial and industrial (C&I) projects. Traditional tracking systems have been inviable for these applications, mainly due to their weight and susceptibility to damage from high winds.
Seeing opportunity in this untapped market, startup Point Load Power has launched its PV Booster, a tracking system designed for commercial applications. It’s this undefended hill of small-scale project tracking that Point Load Power CEO and co-founder Peter Ciulla sees as the path to success.
“The first-generation PV Booster tracker was conceptualized by Bill Gross at the Idealab incubator back in 2016,” Ciulla told pv magazine. “The goal there was to take those economic benefits of tracking that had been proven year after year in utility-scale PV projects and bring them to the growing C&I market.”
Using a steel frame and low-profile design, the product has achieved UL 3703 certification, as well as the wind loading requirements of ASCE 7-16, achievements that Ciulla asserts the company spent all of 2019 working toward.
“Weight and wind. The way we solve those is keeping things short and keeping it as small and as low to the roof deck as possible… These small, short trackers end up keeping those wind loads as low as possible, which keeps the weight as low as possible and ultimately transfers lower loads onto the building structure.
Ciulla also believes that success will come with the lower project overhead costs that its product creates by reducing the number of panels needed to reach certain levels of generation.The company claims that, when paired with bifacial modules, PV Booster trackers can up the power per panel of a project by 70%, compared to an ordinary, 5 degree, fixed-tilt, monofacial system.
“You can do more with less,” Ciulla said. “That 70% more energy means 70% more revenue and that enables projects to use just about half the number of modules and receive 40% greater return on investment for their projects.”
The 70% more energy per panel claim has been proven, at least once, in the field — it comes from an installation of PV Booster trackers on a 20 kW Option One Solar installation in Apple Valley, California. In this instance, the building is aligned perfectly North-South and the true figure is 68% more power per panel.
It is also a claim questioned by resident commercial solar guy, John Weaver, who thinks the increased energy output figures are more complex than advertised.
“You do get more electricity from each solar module, that’s great,” Weaver shared. “But you can fit a lot fewer solar modules up there. So the total rooftop electricity increase, well, we don’t know that number yet. Will we generate more electricity from the roof? With the price of solar modules so cheap, does it makes sense to optimize for their usage by adding moving parts?”
Because of their travel, PV Booster trackers take up more space per module than traditional racking.