If you’ve been in or around the solar industry for the past 5-10 years, it’s likely you’ve witnessed the growing trend of solar tracker deployment at utility-scale sites first-hand. For the most part, this trend has been largely dominated by the U.S. market, but it’s quickly becoming a global movement, with countries such as Australia, Mexico, and United Arab Emirates experiencing unprecedented growth. With this rapid rate of adoption, awareness of the industry has widely increased and brought solar trackers into the spotlight of the utility-scale conversation.
At the same time, a general misconception has taken place. It’s commonly thought that solar tracking is a rather new technology, but the truth is, the first solar trackers appeared on the market nearly 30 years ago. Since then, a great deal of innovation has taken place resulting in the most evolved solar trackers available on the market. Engineered from the knowledge and experience gained over decades, the solar trackers of today are continuously raising the bar by reducing risk and increasing reliability to result in the lowest cost of ownership. As we look to continue down this path of innovation, it’s valuable to take a look at where it all started and explore the technology that paved the way.
In the Beginning
In 1985, a company named Wattsun Corporation was founded to develop a low cost “flat plate” PV concentrator system. This system required a solution that allowed for different tilt angles to maximize production, creating the first demand for solar trackers. Ron Corio was the man for the job. He started developing a multi-tilt angle mounting solution for Wattsun’s concentrator system, and eventually purchased shares of the company in 1989. Then in 1992, Ron Corio formed Array Technologies, Inc. as the world’s first solar tracking manufacturer. Just 2 years later, Array was issued the industry’s first solar tracker patent, pioneering the industry and tracker movement. Through the remainder of 90s, these first trackers were installed in locations worldwide, including extreme condition sites such as the arctic circle, tropical islands, hurricane zones, and deserts. It was quickly realized that a durable tracker design was highly valued and would be for the foreseeable future.
Once thought of as science fiction, in the early 2000s utility-scale solar started to become a reality. In 2004, Array Technologies began shipping trackers to utility-scale projects across Europe and Asia, including a 5.7 MW site in South Korea. Shortly after in 2006, Array’s flagship product, the DuraTrack HZ was installed at the largest utility-scale solar project in the U.S. at the time, a 6 MW site located in Alamosa, CO. As utility-scale solar was gaining traction, so was trackers’ popularity over fixed-tilt solutions. A pivotal milestone for the industry came in 2011, when Array’s DuraTrack HZ won a 20 MW project in Arizona over fixed-tilt, due to the solar tracker’s unique terrain flexibility, which avoided site grading and maximized land occupancy. Just 1 year later, Array Technologies reached it’s 1 GW shipment milestone and was poised for substantial growth in the utility-scale arena.
Since then, multiple versions of Array’s DuraTrack HZ tracker have been released, each becoming the cornerstone for utility-scale solar sites. This includes the 265 MW Mount Signal Solar project, the largest tracked thin film project in the world in 2013. The current version of the DuraTrack HZ tracker, the v3, was released in 2015 and immediately shipped to its first utility-scale site that summer, 256 MW Tranquility in California. Since then, Array has doubled its installed capacity and hit the company’s 6 GW milestone, while expanding the tracker fleet to more than 12,000 MW years of operation. Finally, in 2017 Array has positioned itself to make a major push in the global utility-scale tracker market, by opening offices in Australia, UAE, Mexico, and Europe.
Reducing Risk Through Innovation and Experience
This explosive growth is in large part due to Array’s constant innovation to continuously reduce risk and maximize solar tracker performance and reliability. This is unique to Array and is based on many years of experience and continuous innovation, as outlined below.
Becoming the Industry’s Leading PV Tracker Manufacturer
Through decades of tracker innovation, Array Technologies has designed the most evolved solar tracker on the market, purposefully engineered with simplicity in mind. This focus on engineered simplicity reduces risk and increases reliability to provide the lowest cost of ownership and a durable system built to last the 30-year lifespan of a typical utility-scale project. Thanks to Array’s unmatched reliability, the company has grown to be the industry’s global leader, boasting the most cumulative shipments worldwide at the end of 2016. In the upcoming Global PV Tracker Landscape Report 2017, GTM Research indicates that Array Technologies leads the industry in cumulative global shipments with over 6 GW shipped, nearly 700 MW more than the next closest tracker competitor.