We recently hosted a roundtable with a panel of experts on solar construction in Western Canada. During the discussion, we covered everything from cold weather considerations during design to keeping your costs down during construction.

Our guests were two external experts, both with significant experience in the Canadian solar industry, Arash Yazdani, the Director of Engineering Services at PRI Engineering, and David DeBruin, the CFO at AltaPro.

Either watch the video or read the transcript below the video. You can skip ahead to the section that interests you the most.

Vishal: Hey, good afternoon everybody. Thank you very much for attending today on a Friday afternoon. Hopefully, we have an interesting discussion here and will give you some insight into building solar.

The topic today is building solar in Western Canada. A lot of what we are going to discuss will apply to projects you build anywhere. So once again, thank you very much for joining this webinar today.

The webinar is a little different than what we’ve done in the past. Our webinars have focused on a product. Specifically, we will be talking about building ground-mount solar in Western Canada and would like to have more of an open discussion.

To help me in this discussion today, I’ve invited a couple of gentlemen I know very well. They have built a lot of solar in Western Canada alongside Polar Racking. We have Arash Yazdani from PRI engineering. He is the Director of Engineering Services, and I will let him introduce himself and the PRI engineering company. We also have David Debruin, the CFO of AltaPro but very involved in all operations of AltaPro, especially on the solar side. With that, I will let Arash introduce himself and a little bit about PRI engineering.

Arash: First and foremost, thank you, Polar Racking, for getting this conversation together and inviting me to be a part of this, especially with the momentum we are seeing in Western Canada with renewable energy.

My name is Arash Yazdani. There are a lot of you who have never met me, but hopefully, we will be able to cross paths. I’m a geotechnical engineer who has been practicing in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean for over 10 years. I take care of the design and engineering of solar mounting systems.

About PRI Engineering

PRI engineering consists of over 10 professionals. We have over five professional engineers, technologists, and there are over a hundred years of combined experience in the solar industry within PRI Engineering. We have over 1.5 gigawatts of experience in foundation design and structural design work. Our team is pretty diverse. Everyone plays an integral part in the grand scheme of things, and that’s part of our multidisciplinary approach to solar design, which starts and focuses on geotechnical engineering but extends to a lot of other types of engineering as well.

Vishal: Arash, I believe you’re out in Western Canada testing some sites.

Arash: Yes, we are actively working on some projects in Western Canada. Specifically, at the moment, we are trying to get as much information to fast track designs before the real Canadian winter sets in. It’s always a fun time of year in the geotechnical world, laying piles before Christmas. We have about four or five projects we’re trying to complete by the end of the year.

Vishal: How many megawatts are kilowatts are you working on right now before the end of the year.

Arash: Somewhere in the ballpark of about 250 to about 300 megawatts.

Vishal: I knew it was big, but I didn’t realize it was that big. More evidence that a lot is going on in Western Canada. David, I will turn it on to you. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and AltaPro?

About AltaPro

David: Thanks for the introduction, Vishal, and the opportunity to be on the webinar today. For a brief introduction about AltaPro. We are an electrical design contractor by nature, and we have been in business for about 30 years. We have deep roots, and in the last five years, we have pivoted on the renewable energy side.

Like Vishal has said, I’m the CFO of the company with a very large role on the renewable side. I think it has been very helpful for clients on the financial side. You have to understand the financial workings to get it from an EPC level and to get value for the client. A little bit about myself, I am a master electrician. When we go through and design these systems, we look through it from a constructability standpoint to make sure these designs actually make sense. It’s important to make sure that these designs can be built to make sure the whole package fits together. I’m very strong in the technical side of engineering. AltraPro has a very wide base, and the renewable side is heating up the industry. It definitely has some good vibes right now, and it’s expanding rapidly.

Vishal: Thanks for that introduction. The one thing I know about you, you’re very deep in your projects, so I don’t want that CFO title to throw anyone off. If anyone knows how the nuts-and-bolts work and the financing works, you have a very good appreciation for that. Thank you for joining the webinar today and for contributing your experience.

About Polar Racking

So, I will tell you a little bit about Polar Racking. First of all, my name is Vishal Lala, Founder and Managing Partner of Polar Racking. We have been in business since 2009. Starting in Ontario, we’ve worked in almost all of the provinces now. And finally, we will have our first projects going up in the Northwest Territories. We do a lot of racking in the U.S., and the Caribbean as well. We offer solar mounting systems, including rooftop, ground mount, and carport racking systems. We have a full team of mechanical structural engineers in house. Today, we have completed about 300 megawatts worth of projects, and we have a large pipeline of projects coming up.

The tailwinds for solar, as David said, are pretty favorable South of the border, especially today. Being a Canadian company, we’re always most excited about the Canadian projects. Another reason why it’s great to hear about all of the activity in Canada.

PRU | Solar Ground-Mount Solution

I’m going to take a couple of minutes to talk about our new product before we jump into the discussion. It is a custom-made solution for your project.

Customized Design for Your Site

So, what does that mean? We can customize the foundation table type. We can customize our design for the layout of your site, which ultimately ends up saving you money in steel. Our design ultimately results in significant assembly and construction savings. We do have integrated bonding, and for some of our products, you can pre-populate as your building. We are UL-certified for Canada, which is the ULC, and we are currently going through the RTL certification as well. And we have the UL-203 certification as well in the U.S.

Project Features

So just to pick up on some of the previous points, our product is very robust. So, what does that mean? A lot of other products that you will see in the market tend to go with much lighter main structural beams, and then they throw a lot of bracing on that to make up for that, which ultimately results in a lot of extra time on-site to put it together. When you’re going through the site and doing ongoing O&M, you feel the effect of having those extra parts and fasteners. Our product comes with a 20-year limited warranty as well.

Project Specifications

The product uses galvanized steel construction. We generally use G90 here in Canada. We do a lot of work in the Caribbean as well, where we offer G210 and up to G235, sale and seal fasteners, and Magni-coated fasteners depending on where you are, integrated bonding. With our current wind sail study, we can go as low as 5 degrees and as high as 60 degrees. The rack is configurable.

Design Principle: Your Project Determines the Foundation Type

So, another thing that makes the Polar solution a little bit different than our competitors is that we let you or PRI engineering or your project determine what foundation type you should be using. There are a lot of guys out there, who are the pile guys, the helical guys, or ground screw guys. We’ve done ground screws, helical piles, driven piles, and ballasted solutions. Just in Alberta, we’ve done all of those different types over the last few years. So, we try to make sure we are putting forth the best solution for your site. And the other point I’d like to bring up is that we do offer two-high in-portrait or three-high in-portrait, or four in-landscape or six in-landscape. That is something new that we’re offering this year because we just got a new wind sail study done. So, depending on your site conditions, we work with you to optimize the solution that makes the most sense. We mean in terms of constructability, production, and getting it in the ground.

This is just the last slide about Polar before we start our discussion. As I said, the focus today is big solar, which tends to be in the ground, but we do offer the following: flat roof ballasted and a flush mount system, or small ground mounts, that we sell through Frankensolar and EECOL Electric, the distributors in Canada, and the PRU, which is the focus of the discussion today.

PRP | Solar Carports

This year we’ve started selling carports in the U.S. We’re getting the first new carports going on in Canada. We’ve taken a new approach to carports. If you go on our website and see some of our pictures, you’ll see the variety of our offerings. Again, a very robust product and very simple to assemble – please check it out.

So, that leads us into our main purpose, which is a discussion of building solar in Western Canada, and we will touch on a few different topics: building solar above the ground, building solar below the ground, tracking versus fixed. I would like to start by asking David:

What makes Western Canada such a great market for solar right now?

David: I think it comes down to a couple of main things.

Access to Sun Hours

We have really good access to the sun here.
Number one, you have to have that, and here in Alberta, we have a wide range of sun hours that go across the province. In Alberta specifically, and in BC, there is a lot of difference in sun hours, but the majority of western Canada has great access to the resource. At the end of the day, it also has to make sense financially. But the number one driver is that we do have that resource, which is good.

Deregulation verses Regulated Markets

You know another thing specifically in the Alberta market where I am situated, it comes down to the mix of the deregulated and regulated markets, and the financial benefit for the developer. The result is some unique financing structures coming in. At the end of the day, it is going to come down to the energy and commodity cost.

In Alberta specifically, there is a good market for developers to come in with a good solution, low-cost energy generation, and that’s why I think it is on such an upswing. The pricing and solar and energy generation has come down to the point where it is very competitive, and perhaps more than our traditional sources of energy. So, that’s why I see it as a huge and great market for solar in Western Canada.

Vishal: That’s great. We’re seeing so much development there. We’re being contacted by lots of local developers in Alberta. But we’re also starting to see people coming from Eastern Canada, but also European developers, and U.S. developers take an interest in projects in Western Canada. Specifically, Alberta, more than some of the other provinces, but Saskatchewan is on the radar as well from some developers out East.

Do you have any experience from some of the other markets in Saskatchewan or BC?

David: Yes, Alberta is our primary focus, and we do look at Saskatchewan as well. To me, it’s the barrier of entry that’s creating this shift to renewables in Western Canada. If you have a regulatory bond, you play by their rules, and it makes it a little bit inhibitive for a developer to bring on a generation asset. So, Saskatchewan and BC are a little more stringent and more robust. Not to say it’s not a good area, but Alberta. If you can become an Alberta system operator with a great project solution to the grid problems, it’s fair game, it’s a fair market, and that’s why it’s so great here – you have the open market advantage.

Solar Opportunities in Saskatchewan

There are very good sun hours in Saskatchewan as well. I’m sure many of us have seen that map that’s yellow and blue where the sun hours are. Saskatchewan, in terms of a province, definitely has a greater resource. But it comes down to being able to get these projects going. SaskPower is on your side to allow you to get into these kinds of projects, the same thing with BC.

Vishal: Right. I appreciate that. Now, I will turn this one over to Arash.

What makes building in Western Canada unique (as opposed to some of the projects that you have worked on in Eastern Canada or the U.S., right now)?

Arash: That’s a great question. Obviously, the opportunity in Western Canada is unique. As David summarized well, there are some significant challenges, but they can be worked through. Each province in Western Canada does provide its unique characteristics that force us to think about design a little differently when it comes to foundations and racking systems.

Solar Opportunities in Manitoba

When we start in the East, in Manitoba, looking at it from a geotechnical standpoint, first and foremost, there is the Canadian Shield at the easternmost flank of Manitoba, which means a lot of hard rock and that can be challenging terrain and typography to navigate with racking systems.

Solar Opportunities in the Prairies

But as you work your way west from the Canadian Shield, you come to Prairies, which is flat, and as David noted, where the large sun resource lies. There are a lot of opportunities there. Flatland is easier land to develop from a racking standpoint and a construction standpoint. The Prairies here seem to be a little less variable than what I am used to here in Southern Ontario from a geology standpoint.

Topography and Solar in Saskatchewan

As we work our way further west, Saskatchewan is pretty much fully prairie, very uniform. As we work our way into the Prairies, with there being fewer trees, obstructions, buildings, hills – that type of topographic features, there are higher wind speeds. With higher wind speeds, you have fewer concerns with snow accumulation, snow sweeping. At the same time, we’re in Canada, in the North, it’s not unlikely that you could get one meter of snow at any given time. One meter may seem a little extreme. I have seen, as I’m sure other Canadians in the conversation here, a meter of snow. Because of those heavy environmental loads, you need to have a robust, well-thought-out engineered system that is going to be capable of withstanding these harsh conditions over a 20-to-25-year period.

As you work your way west, the Southeast where there is a lot of action in Alberta, that is prairie. Once again, it goes back to the sun resources that David talked about. As we work our way closer to the mountains, to the Rockies, the terrain all of a sudden becomes closer to the Canadian Shield, and it’s a much tougher terrain to build on. Once again, that is why we are seeing the majority of the projects in the prairie, in the flat low-lying areas in Western Canada where the sun shines, no obstructions, and it’s easy to build on.

Solar in British Columbia

When you work your way to BC – BC is very unique in its environmental conditions and climatic conditions – you don’t have that much frost and that is something we haven’t talked about. Frost is a very large concern for foundation design in a northern environment, but in BC, the frost is not that deep. When you work your way north, frost picks up, and you have an increase in frost depth. More importantly, we can get huge snow loads. With snow loads, that might affect more of Vishal’s business on the racking side and less on the foundation side. But at the end of the day, the racking system Bears on the foundations, it’s all interconnected. That’s the big thing here. You have a lot of really harsh environmental conditions that need to be considered in the design. You can’t assume that one is more important than the other. Or one takes precedence over the other. they need to all be looked at holistically and in a uniform fashion.

Vishal: absolutely. For my next question, I’m going to swap the next two questions, and let you keep going a little bit, Arash, because I think it leads in probably very well.

What is the impact of frost when building in Western Canada?

I’ll preface this a little. I have been in the solar industry since 2009. We started as a rooftop company, but in those early days in Ontario, there were a lot of sites built in Ontario with engineers from California and Germany coming in designing the foundations as they have always done. we have seen a lot of those projects, frankly, come out of the ground. The program in Ontario is probably one of the richest programs ever. Even though these sites cost millions and millions to fix, people probably still made a little bit of money. The situation in Western Canada doesn’t necessarily allow for that or anywhere really allows for that. For us, it had a huge impact, those early mistakes that happened here.

And let’s talk obviously about Southern Alberta and what is being built. As I mentioned at the top, we are doing a project, it’s in Whitehorse, and people are talking about permafrost. What do you look at when you look at these projects?

Permafrost Considerations for Solar Foundation Design

Arash: Good question. Maybe we will start with permafrost. it is a very unique subsurface condition that you only see in certain parts of the world, Canada and Russia predominantly, and some of the Scandinavian nations. Not a lot of countries and not a lot of engineers out there have experience on that front. One of the challenges with permafrost is that there is something called discontinuous permafrost. There are layers in the ground that are frozen, but they have unfrozen layers within them, so water can move within those frozen layers of soil.

Frost Considerations on Solar Foundations Design

Frost uplift or frost heave is the main concern of frost. And ultimately, what that means is the expansion of water in the pores of the soil. So, if you have just cold temperatures and water or non-frost-susceptible soils, you are not as bad. When you have cold temperatures, which we always know we have in Canada, and you mix the availability of water and frost-susceptible soils, that’s when frost becomes a big concern. So, when we analyze projects, we are looking at all of these considerations. Once again, we are in Canada, where unfortunately it’s not going to become warmer anytime soon, and we will have to deal with frost.

When analyzing a site, we look at the site-specific conditions. It’s extremely important to assess the site from a frost susceptibility standpoint. Some sites will be more frost susceptible than others. Getting a good grasp on and understanding of frost will allow you to have a successfully built project in Western Canada.

Tolerance Considerations in Solar Racking Systems

In a lot of cases, it also comes back to the racking system. Some racking systems will have a higher tolerance to movement than others. If you have a higher tolerance in your racking system to movement, you may be able to resist a little higher frost heave in the cold than others. This has to be considered when you are doing the design. We have worked with several different racking companies, and Polar is one of the ones we are more familiar with. One thing about the Polar system is that there is a lot of adjustability to account for that movement.

Designing for Solar in the Prairies

When I was talking earlier about the different regions in Canada and how the environmental conditions affect the design, we talked about the Prairies being a little more on the uniform side, especially when compared to what is back home for me, Southern Ontario. The soils are uniform, and therefore, it’s fair to assume the foundations will react similarly. What I mean by that is that we are okay with movement. If anyone tells you that the foundation isn’t going to move is unfortunately lying to you. Every foundation will move, even just one or two millimeters, it may be up to five or ten millimeters. But if we can assess this site properly and confirm that it is uniform, we are then able to confirm that if there is any frost heave or uplift, the system will act uniformly. When the system is acting uniformly on a racking system, you are not exposing that racking to additional stress. That means that those components are going to last longer, the modules are not going to get damaged, and ultimately, that is what we have to worry about when designing foundations for racking systems.

We need to make sure that we protect the developer’s investment in those modules. At the end of the day, those modules are what convert all that solar energy potential that David was talking about in the Prairies to energy, which is what the end return for these projects and is why they get built. So, when we look at frost, we are always considering how we can protect those modules when designing those foundations.

Vishal: I appreciate that. To pick up on some projects recently, we have been heavy into helical piles, but we are starting to see areas now where driven piles work as well.

The Impact of Glacial Till Deposits on Solar Design

Arash: We are seeing a lot of glacial till deposits. Anybody who has explored the Rockies in Alberta, the Columbian icefields, the most active ice field that is regularly visited by humans this whole area been affected by glaciation and if you could picture a kilometer of ice depressing soil, it makes it really dense and if we find those dense pockets of soil, we’re finding that driven piles work great.

Underground Soil Deposits and Foundation Design

We have to have a good understanding of the underground soil deposits at the site to understand how we can design around it. That’s why it’s important to not only do a detailed geotechnical investigation but also you need to understand what deposits can accommodate which foundation types best. That’s one of the reasons we have been successful working with Polar because, as Vishal said at the onset of this conversation, you have to let the ground do the talking.

There are a lot of designers out there. We were talking about Californians, they are used to non-glaciated soil deposits, and glaciated soil deposits are extremely unique. They do need to be looked at from a different lens as compared to soil deposits.

Vishal: absolutely. I’m going to turn the next question over to non-glaciated to David to start.

How does the choice in racking impact the overall EPC cost?

David: The big thing for me when I look at it is the labor portion. Don’t get me wrong, racking is definitely a large portion of the overall cost picture in the EPC price. Labor drives a lot of the bus here in the decisions. You can’t turn a blind eye to how the work goes together, and can it be pre-fabbed, and what the DC Cable Management looks like.

DC Cable Management and EPC Costs

In Canada, we have a very unique climate with huge swings like Vishal and Arash were talking about. We have weather from very heavy snowfalls to frost conditions. This all adds up to potentially ice hanging from wires and how robust that racking system is. You don’t want to have a racking system that doesn’t incorporate some level of DC cable management with snow pulling out some wires or relying on zip ties or cable clips for absolutely everything. You need some beef there in the structure.

Frost and EPC Costs

Talking about the frost and what makes it unique in Canada from a construction standpoint, we have a pretty small window of construction to get that labor portion in check. We have built projects in the dead of winter with some heavy snowfall, but obviously, it increases the labor component. If you’re moving around meters of snow to clear the site to work on it, as a developer, you are just going to wait until the spring. What makes it unique in Canada, your racking, and overall EPC costs, you have to get that right on the construction schedule. That comes into trenching as well. You are not going to be able to be trenching in the frost. You will have to wait until spring to understand the geology of the site, and the weather patterns that you are going to see there do play a role in your overall EPC costs.

Geology and EPC Costs

Very often, developers from Europe come in and have a preconceived notion, this is the foundation that we have done here, and try and push this on this site. You can’t do that in Canada. You have to listen to the geology of the site and build off from there. Arash has spoken about that as well. It is paramount. You have to look at the site and let it and say what you are going to do for the foundation, or you will regret your decision from an EPC standpoint.

Tolerances and EPC Costs

For us, it’s also the tolerances. Let’s say this thing blows together really quickly and it doesn’t have any tolerance, you are asking for problems. Because nothing is going to be perfect. You have undulations in the ground profile, and if your rack can’t accommodate some level of tolerance you are going to be dealing with a lot tighter tolerance for pile refusals. You will have to get that driven or helical pile just right to make sure that rack fits on there without having any negative effects. Tolerance is a big thing in the EPC cost that we look at.

Fixed Material Costs and Labor

One thing I like to focus on – it’s not always about the cost. From a financial perspective, when we look at these projects, overall, I would much rather have a fixed material cost than labor. In construction, it’s a huge risk. Labor is always the largest risk in all the projects that we look at and how we mitigate that. Whether it’s by design we optimize, or there are a lot of other methods. To me, labor is the biggest thing that racking can affect the overall EPC cost.

Vishal: Right, I appreciate that. Just to throw in a little plug for me, it’s these types of discussions that I have with guys like you, David, and Arash, that help us to develop the features or solutions that we need. This is great feedback and good for people that haven’t built a lot here.

When you talk about tolerances, I look at the picture in the background as an example. It’s a 3.3 megawatts site that you built in Calgary, and we supplied the racking and foundations for it, and Arash worked on the design. There was some fill that we weren’t made aware of beforehand and didn’t come up in our initial investigation. The tolerance came into play big time on that site.

David: Yes, like the picture shows, it looks well-presented and the racking aided with a lot of tolerance. It plays into shading long-term. Look at how much projects are going to lose on shading losses if the racking is all over the map and if you didn’t set it right. All of those things come from the fact long-term. You have to make sure you do it right the first time.

Racking and EPC Costs

I also want to talk about how racking plays a large role in the EPC costs. It is the availability to adjust your design to two different module configurations on the table. I see a lot of times guys walk in and want this size of table. They just want to run with it, and they have a preconceived notion of it. You can’t approach optimizing a site with that mindset. It needs to be driven by the DC strings. You want to find out how many modules you are connecting and then optimize the rack to pair with that and complimented. You don’t want to do it backward. They want to make the shape of the site, then they want to cable it, and then all of a sudden, you have this labor component that I was talking about. Such as taking conductors from one end to share strings, and this might be getting into the technical portion of it, but I want to shed some light on it. As you configure your wiring to fit your racking, there are huge swings you can see in the EPC costs.

Having the right racking solution and partner to help you optimize the table sizes, foundation, and even foundation count plays a massive part in the cost.

Vishal: I appreciate that. So, the wiring, when we’re designing a system, often people will tell us the string size, or typically we will adjust the size to the string. We don’t always realize the huge impact that that has on us so, we appreciate you shedding light on that. Often, we are caught in our bubble.

Single-Axis Tracker versus Fixed-Tilt

One more topic that I want to talk about with you is single-axis tracker versus fixed-tilt. I’ll preface this by saying, currently, Polar doesn’t sell a single axis tracker. We only have a fixed-tilt solution. Part of that is because I haven’t been to a single axis tracker site where all the tables are facing in the same direction, so it makes me a little nervous.

We are learning a lot from what others have done wrong, and one day, it is quite possible that we will have one. But as it stands today, typically, as we are supplying products to some harsher environments, the fixed seems to work well. And for people that are considering owning these long-term assets, as you said and looking at the impasse, there is still a great market for a fixed-tilt system.

I’m interested in hearing your opinion about that and some of the different design considerations for people that would be considering single-axis tracker systems. I’ll open that up to you and I’ll let you, David, start.

Fixed versus Single-Axis Tracker

David: This is an interesting topic, and a lot of opinions vary on this one. For me, I do think single-axis tracker has a place in solar in the world as we develop global energy creation. But in Canada, you need to carefully consider the options for the single-axis tracker. We have talked about the environment, the climate, and down South, we have very high winds, and we have very high snow up North. There is a lot to consider there.

Climate Considerations for Racking Types

A lot of these systems have been manufactured in areas, which are not accustomed to these weather conditions. I will preface this and say that it is not bad, but some of these manufacturers have not fully understood the climates in western Canada and made sure that the products match the area in which they are going to be installed.

Evaluating Racking Types from a Financial Standpoint

From a financial standpoint, it comes down to the dollars and cents. As a developer or as someone providing the EPC costs to someone, it should come down to the financial feasibility. And there is a huge risk and reward to single-axis trackers. Yes, you do get some higher production numbers, and in some parts of Alberta, it works great. But in other parts, you should be cautious about it. You will probably miss out on a lot of snow load, snow days, and these systems can’t handle these large swings in weather; they end up going to safe mode. There is a lot to dive into in there.

Misconceptions on Production

The largest misconception that I see people think is that this large broad shoulder is going to produce 30% more energy. As you go more North in Western Canada, those gains diminish. Because if you look at the highest hours at noon, when your module is flat, way up North, the sun goes very low. If you don’t have that tilt on the single-axis tracker, you may have very broad shoulders, but there is a huge haircut on your peak generation that you otherwise wouldn’t be missing. This changes throughout Alberta from Southern Alberta to Northern Alberta. If you are up here in Northern Alberta, you probably should not be doing a single axis tracker due to the generation and the added costs.

Construction Consideration on Racking Types

On the construction end, we are going to build it for this cost, but you have to take everything into account every single-axis tracker and fix tilt has a set amount of O&M dollars you are going to spend on that thing for the full life cycle of the system. And with single-axis trackers, there is going to be an increase. You have moving parts, you have motors, you have added electronics and sensors.

Racking Types and Solar in the North

Not to say that these things are bad, and I do think single-axis trackers are a great solution, but you need to look at the added generation that you’re going to get, and the dollar amount you’re going to see in each market and if that’s worth the risk. Because my personal standpoint is that if you are going more North than Red Deer, Alberta, I would choose fixed unless a developer wanted to do that. That’s my standpoint. I would be curious to see, Arash, what you’ve been seeing in the marketplace. We’ve been dealing with many developers of all sorts, and you see lots of different opinions. So now I will kick it over to you to hear what your opinion is on single-axis trackers.

Arash: I appreciate that, Dave. I was thinking that this might have been one of the topics that you and I had a bit of a differing opinion. And I’m happy to hear that you are singing a lot of the same tune and what I was thinking as Vishal was asking the question. I can’t agree with you more on the O&M side.

Impact of Cold Weather on Single-Axis Trackers

I don’t think that this has been thought out in a Northern environment. Fundamentally, I don’t like the idea of things that move in -30 or -40 degrees Celsius. That is just asking for trouble. Moving parts and cold temperatures don’t typically go hand-in-hand, so that is one concern.

The Added Risk of Sensors and Electronics

Another thing I’ve seen on the single-axis tracker front that is a little bit troubling or concerning from a foundation design standpoint is that, for the most part, they are equipped with sensors and electronics. I don’t know about any of the audience, but I can tell you about my experience. I own a 2010 truck, and any of the issues that I have are typically electronic and sensor related. Electronics and sensors are prone to fail. And, when those sensors and electronics fail, you need to consider that in your design, and that’s not being considered at all.

A lot of these systems have sensors that if the wind speed goes over X kilometers or X miles per hour, the tracker puts itself in the safe zone and goes flat. And there are also sensors that use algorithms to predict whether it’s going to snow, and then, when you hit several checkboxes, the tracker will often put itself in the vertical position to safeguard it from snow.

For example, the Prairies have high wind and high snow. A lot of the time, when you have high winds, it sweeps the snow off, which doesn’t mean you are not going to get accumulation. So, what happens if your sensor goes flat from high winds and you are expecting a lot of snow. Well, a lot of members in the racking systems are going to fail.

Design Considerations for Racking Types

When you are designing the foundation, and you are doing that electrical generation model, I don’t think that that double-factor is being considered. That is not to say everybody is doing this. I have seen quite a few racking companies where they have considered worst-case scenarios, and I have seen other single-axis tracker racking companies that are, to some degree, brushing it under the rug. That is something that needs to be looked at from a developer level. You need to be adamant that you are receiving the worst-case scenario. And if they’re not presented to you in a worst-case scenario, I want you to ask the series of questions that I just asked, and say what are you doing about this? What are you doing to make sure that when that sensor fails, it’s horizontal, we have a foot of snow coming, are all those beams in the racking system not going to buckle and fail?

That is something that needs to be looked at closely because, yes, there are a lot of benefits on the generation side, as David outlined. But you wipe out two to three weeks of production, and all of those benefits have gone out the window.

Vishal: I appreciate your perspective on that. To your point, I think that this market is going to evolve, and there is going to be a place for both solutions. But for now, we are standing by and watching and learning from others on what not to do. Both of you had interesting points on that end and viewed through two different lenses on that issue

We’ve provided a lot of food for thought today. If you do have questions, if you have topics from today’s discussion or projects you would like to discuss, we are available to answer your questions and work through your projects with you. Our contact information is here, and please feel free to reach out.

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