The startupEdisun Microgrids wants to make solar trackers normal on commercial and industrial rooftops. The companyhas installed 3,000 solar trackers on top of an industrial rooftop in Southern California, earning the title of "World's Largest Rooftop Solar Tracker Installation."
Trackers, which allow solar panels to move with the sun throughout the day, are not commonly used in rooftop installations. High winds, small rooftop gaps, and heavy tracking equipment mean that much of the tracker hardware doesn't make economic sense installed on a rooftop.
Instead, tracking systems are used in most large ground-mounted solar systems that are located in remote areas.Trackers increase the amount of energy a solar system generates and can lower the total cost.
The startup Edisun Microgrids, which was founded by the tech entrepreneurBill grossa year ago,has developed a two-axis tracking system specifically designed for the roofs of commercial and industrial buildings. Its distributed trackers rotate from the bottom edge of a panel (rather than from the center in most trackers systems) and can also be retracted to lie flat against the building's ceiling.
The company says itsRooftop tracking equipment can increase the energy output of a solar project by 30% compared to fixed tilt trackers and 40% compared to solar panels without trackers. Hardware adds 10% percent to the cost of a solar project and can improve the economics of a solar installation by 20%, says its founder and CEO of the company.
"We hope to show that monitoring is as valuable on the ceiling as it is on the ground," he said. "We hope this is a big change and has a great impact."
The company's large solar-tracking project was installed on an industrial rooftop in Oxnard, California, which is being used by the product distributorChiquita Brands International. The 1 megawatt system uses 2,900 trackers over an area of 34,000 square meters. West Hills Construction developed the project, and it was funded and owned byHarry Ross Industries.
The project is Edison Microgrids' first of this size, but Gross said thatthe company has a 20 megawatt portfolio of projects to be built on commercial and industrial building roofs. The company says ideal customers include warehouse owners, retail outlets, college campuses and hospitals.
Although the Chiquita roof is a big step for Edisun Microdrids, the company could face numerous hurdles, as this industry is notoriously difficult for solar hardware startups. "The solar industry is quite conservative and price sensitive, since it produces electricity, which is a commodity," he said. Scott moskowitz, solar analyst ofGTM Research.
For Moskowitz, adding an individual tracker to each module means adding more equipment, more complexity, and more costs. So "proving that your technology adds enough value (through increased performance) and reliability will be extremely difficult to do," Moskowitz said.
However, Moskowitz also noted that the commercial sector is more willing to invest in the premium that the new monitoring team would require. If Edisun can show that the performance and the economy work, there could be an opportunity in certain areas like California or Arizona, Moskowitz said.