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Solar panel product follows sun through sky

Ashland’s own Stracker, Inc. has created a solar tracker it says is 40 percent more effective than rooftop solar panels, kindling hopes they can change the use of solar energy by being the first company to commercialize a product so innovative.

The S1 model uses GPS control technology and dual-axis tracking to follow the sun, checking and adjusting its position every 7.5 minutes to keep the solar panels perpendicular to the sun at all times. Twenty-four high-powered solar panels shift in unison atop an array situated on a 20-foot pole, creating largely shaded areas below and allowing a clearance of 13 feet in any direction. This makes the product ideal for use over commercial and residential areas in need of shade such as car dealerships, parks, school blacktops and agricultural lots.

In theory, the S1 could completely supply a residential home’s energy.

Jeff Sharpe, the company's senior engineer and proprietor, describes the S1 solar tracker as state-of-the-art within the industry.

“We can take advantage of this 40 percent increase and we can put this in places that otherwise might not have worked before,” Sharpe said. “We’ve come out with a product that nobody is offering commercially.”

The S1 is structurally certified for winds of 125 mph. A wind meter at the top of the tracker records wind speed and automatically adjusts the array to lie flat during excessive winds, its safest position, according to Sharpe. The tracker may also lie flat any time to create shade or rain protection, and to stow at night.

The company has installed a few solar trackers already, but only last week completely finalized the development process so they're now ready to move onto commercially launching and distributing the product.

The S1 may be bought as a tracker without solar panels, but to have the tracker installed complete with all necessary equipment and permits is $42,000. Sharpe’s team has estimated the tracker to pay for itself after 9.7 years for commercial use, and 9.9 years for residential use.

Oak Street Tank and Steel Inc. has partnered with Stracker Inc. and Sharpe Energy Solutions to create the trackers. They’ve had a tracker installed in their Ashland yard, and are allowing a corner of their building to be used for manufacturing the steel portions of the trackers. Jim Morris, general manager, said that he could tell this was a project he needed to be a part of.

“Solar is something that is going to be a part of our future,” Morris said. “This seemed like a good product … and I think that it will take off.”

Sharpe is also developing adjunct pieces for the tracker, including a light fixture ring to be attached around 13 feet and a car charging station to be fitted at the base of the pole.

Sharpe got into the solar business with his father in 1976. Sharpe Energy Solutions were prime contractors for the Oregon Department of Energy and focused on helping schools save money by being more energy efficient. Sharpe said within the last five years the focus has shifted to bringing solar energy to the schools. The company mainly works with schools in Siskiyou county and the Ashland school district.

“In doing that, we came up with this concept because we have a lot of parking lot space that could be absorbing solar energy,” Sharpe said. “Instead of putting it into heat in the asphalt, we could be putting it into electricity for the facilities.”

They are currently looking for local installers to team with for future S1 trackers.

The California Proposition 39 program is a clean jobs act the company has been involved with for a while, Sharpe said.

“We were developing tracker systems where we could hire people within the communities,” Sharpe said. “We use their experts and electricians and we teach them what we’re doing … and in doing that, particularly with the schools, we’ve helped normalize the concept of renewable energy.”

Sharpe’s team are still in the beginning stages of launching the product, but he is confident that it will change the way solar energy is utilized.

“I think that it’s going to open a lot of space to the solar generation,” Sharpe said. “This is going to be a shaker and a mover.”

—Email Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.