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Dual-axis tracking raises bar in solar tech

Photo by Allayana Darrow | Jeff Sharpe checks the testing setup for Stracker Solar control systems Monday, Oct. 25, 2021.

As the only company with UL-3703 listed elevated power plants in the U.S., there’s no shortage of projects waiting to take advantage of STracker Solar technology, but competition is on its way, said founder Jeff Sharpe.

The UL-3703 listing is “coveted” because it informs potential clients that the solar energy system’s components have been thoroughly tested and documented for safety and reliability, Sharpe said.

Dual-axis solar tracking systems allow the same solar panels to see 50-70% more energy harvest than through fixed panels, he said. Mounted on 20-foot posts, the elevated systems allow for continued use of the area below each installation, whether over roadways or farmland.

STracker Solar has thus far installed about a dozen dual-axis solar tracking systems in Ashland and four off-grid systems in Jacksonville, with a few more systems scattered across the region.

“We’re the only ones available in the U.S. for anything like this right now [on a commercial scale],” Sharpe said. “Competition is coming; it’s going to come quick.”

Sharpe said building a functioning network of solar collaborators will be crucial to ensuring a healthy transition in electricity sourcing — the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the U.S.

“I would say that we are on the cusp of a wave; we’re at the limit of what we can handle,” he continued. “In the last few months, it has taken off in a way that we had hoped for, didn’t necessarily expect, and is going to require us to expand our production capabilities.”

In addition, the cost of steel has more than doubled and STracker Solar continues to battle supply chain issues for most components, slowing the company’s ability to accept new contracts.

In each setup, STracker’s patented control systems are combined with structural steel components manufactured at Oak Street Tank & Steel Inc.

Through Ashland’s virtual net metering program, power produced through a 200-kilowatt rooftop system at the workshop is credited to the Ashland Food Co-Op.

At the end of September, three new STrackers were installed at the north end of the SOU Sustainability Farm, adding to three existing Strackers installed in 2019, providing renewable energy credits and opening an avenue for agrivoltaic research for the university, and setting up investor Abbott’s Cottages as the first net-zero vacation rental in Ashland.

“Energy resilience and a secure energy infrastructure are key elements for us to meet Ashland’s present and future energy needs,” said Brad Roupp, owner of Abbott’s Cottages. “Now with these additional three STrackers, along with the three units we installed in 2019, 100% of the electricity that our business, home and vehicles consume is provided by the sun.”

Two bifacial solar trackers at Ashland Family Dentistry now provide power for the entire office. One of the models has “more than adequately” powered an Ashland residence for more than three years, Sharpe said.

A set of five STrackers with lot lighting is due for installation at TC Chevy in November — Sharpe said he expects contracts for car dealership lot installations to become a reliable trend. A six-panel setup is slated for installation at Franz Bakery in Medford and five S1B trackers are headed for a new Ashland bank branch scheduled to open in 2022, which will make it the first net-zero bank in the state, Sharpe said.

A large residence in the Emigrant Lake area plans to power everything, including a swimming pool, with an S1B — the only model STracker Solar is offering for new projects at this time.

“We have some big names locally that are talking about some large community solar projects and they will all utilize this S1B,” Sharpe said.

When wind reaches 30 miles per hour, a wind monitor instructs the S1B to move to a flat position, which can handle up to 120 mph winds — they’re essentially “bulletproof,” Sharpe said.

The benefit of dual-axis tracking technology extends to reducing the greenhouse gas footprint of manufactured solar panels, Sharpe said, by using up to half as many dual-axis trackers to provide the same amount of energy as a fixed installation, thereby reducing the most greenhouse gas-emitting part of the process: the solar panel itself.

“Fortunately, we have been asked to bid on three ground-mount installations in the past couple of years and in all three, we won based on cost per kilowatt hour produced,” he said. “We’re just seeding something now that’s going to play a significant piece in this transformation from fossil fuel to wind and solar power. It’s going to take all of us.”