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The Power Curve Advantage: Trackers and Time of Use

Posted by AllEarth Renewables on November 3, 2016 in Maximizing Power Production, Solar System Issues and Considerations, Solar System Design, Dealers, Consumer

Dual-axis solar trackers are a powerful and effective way to address time of use rates and the duck curve.The benefits of dual-axis solar trackers are clear, especially when it comes to maximizing power production: they are the single most effective way to increase the energy output of a PV system, with the exception of increasing project size. By consistently maintaining the optimal PV-array-to-sun angle throughout the day, trackers can improve a system's output by over 40% compared to fixed solar. While fixed systems rarely reach maximum power, the tracker maintains full power output from dawn to dusk.

Higher power production is beneficial to any solar customer, but dual-axis solar trackers become particularly advantageous when it comes to customers facing time of use (TOU) rate changes. As policy and rates reflect the need for more afternoon production, fixed systems need to be oriented farther west, sacrificing total daily production. With trackers you have production optimization all day long, maximizing the power curve.

Customers can be assured that their solar trackers will be producing at maximum levels throughout the day, no matter what the TOU rates are, and how they shift over time. This is critical for something like solar, which is a long-term investment by homeowners or commercial investors, in a rapidly changing energy environment.

This becomes particularly relevant to consumers in states like California, which has set ambitious renewable energy goals and is facing challenges when it comes to meeting energy demand at peak times of day. TOU rates are increasing to address what is known as the "duck curve," when the falloff of solar and the sharp load ramp rate in the late afternoon puts a real strain on the grid, and trackers can help fill in production during this critical, higher-cost period. Dual-axis solar trackers are one of the most effective ways of addressing the duck curve.

The “duck curve” graph shows the steep load ramp rate as solar generation comes offline at the end of the day. This ramp occurs over approximately three hours to replace the electricity lost by solar power as the sun sets. Solar tracker production falls off much more slowly, making them better "citizens of the grid" as they help to lessen the steep rise of this curve, creating cost savings for the utility and the home- or commercial building owner. Utilities are increasingly eager to see dual-axis tracker projects come online versus fixed solar arrays to help lessen the generation ramp need at this time of day.

In addition, trackers are essentially “future-proof” for changes in the timing of TOU rates going forward.  As the high-charge “peak” times shift later and later in the day as we have seen in many utilities across the country due to increased penetration of fixed solar, dual-axis solar trackers will always be producing at maximum levels, yielding higher returns and financial benefits for the owner.

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