Solar tracker technology: Benefits to Kern County and beyond
It’s no secret that Kern County’s history of energy production is growing beyond oil and gas to include solar energy production. According to Global Market insights, the fast-paced global solar market will exceed $140 billion by 2023.
Most of the growth in the sector is being driven by utility-scale solar projects, and sunny Kern County is well-positioned to get an outsized piece of that pie. Though the solar market has been growing in Kern for years, an innovative production-boosting technology is bringing even greater value to the solar projects of Kern and beyond.
That technology is the solar tracker. In the world of solar energy, trackers are an increasingly popular investment, as they increase energy production 20 to 25 percent and expand the energy delivery curve to better match local electricity demand. Unlike solar panels that remain fixed in one position, solar trackers allow solar panels to follow the sun’s path across the sky, thereby catching the maximum amount of sunlight each day. This increases energy production and smooths out the delivery curve, and the bigger the solar project is, the bigger these benefits are to those receiving the energy.
It’s no wonder that large-scale solar utility sites in Kern and across the world now consistently incorporate trackers into their new solar projects.
Kern will maximize the economic benefits of the growth of the solar industry by using trackers that can stand up to Kern’s sometimes harsh environment. In fact, early this year, a 200 megawatt solar project at Garland Solar Facility in Kern County began commercial operation and did just that.
The developers of the 2,000-acre project carefully selected flexibly linked centralized trackers that provide the maximum power production and that are a match for the weather and other special conditions of Kern. Array Technologies was chosen to provide those trackers. The Garland Facility is an excellent model of how the right tracker can make a big difference for utility-scale solar plants not only in Kern, but across the globe.
The Garland Solar Facility was built to operate in demanding conditions, starting at the foundation of the project — its trackers. Array’s flexibly linked tracker, the DuraTrack HZ v3, is capable of withstanding temperatures of minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 34 degrees Celsius to 60 degrees Celsius).
The tracker’s durable stow-free design combined with its patented torsion limiter makes it especially useful for places like Kern that have high winds that can carry sandy soils. The torsion limiter mitigates the excess loads of high wind speeds — and alleviates pressure from the buildup of sand dunes. In fact, Array’s tracker is the only tracker that completely eliminates catastrophic risk to the solar plant due to wind forces, one of the most complex risk elements faced by solar trackers.
Maintenance costs pose one of the biggest challenges for solar plants in Kern or anywhere else, especially because the typical solar plant is expected to last 30 years or more. Minor problems can be exacerbated over the course of three decades. The Garland Facility developers knew that to avoid extra costs, they needed to maximize tracker reliability, which means minimizing the chances for operational failure.
Array’s flexibly linked centralized tracker architecture has minimal moving parts and zero scheduled maintenance for the 30-year lifespan — drastically reducing repair costs and offering the lowest cost of ownership. Alternative trackers with decentralized designs use many more moving parts, which adds potential failure points. Frequent failures can result in intermittent energy output or additional maintenance and labor costs for upkeep.
Trackers that are designed to handle the challenges of the region help solar plant owners better optimize their energy usage and control associated costs. That’s why our trackers are also used for other installations in the county, including in Bakersfield, Delano and Chowchilla.
Tracker choice is significant for any solar site. These solar assets can have a direct impact on uptime, production, cost of ownership and economic viability of a solar power plant. With the help of tracker technology, solar facilities can maximize efficiency and serve as an example for other solar plants in Kern and beyond.