U.S. startup claims doubled energy per acre with terrain-following solar array

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From pv magazine USA

Planted Solar, a solar startup out of Oakland, California, received $20 million in Series A funding from the Bill Gates Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Kholsa Ventures, as well as the Department of Energy Funds to scale its terrain-following solar installation design.

The company installs its arrays like a sheet, densely packed together, rather than using typical row spacing. Instead of developing the land to be flat and uniform, the company’s solar mounts follow the terrain, tolerating up to a 27% slope. This helps reduce land development costs and allows for more energy-per-acre.

This may prove important, as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management forecasts the country will need 22 million acres for solar project deployment.

“In comparison to south-facing fixed tilt and tracker designs, a Planted array provides a comparable kWh/kWp yield when using a higher inverter loading ratio (ILR) and is substantially lower in cost of structural balance of system and installation, reduces the amount of civil work and civil risk, and requires a lot less land,” said Planted Solar.

The company said its design allows for a megawatt of solar to be installed on only two acres, less than the five acres typically required for a megawatt of solar capacity. Its simple terrain-following mount leads to a 50% reduction in the balance of system costs and fewer installation hours.

“This adds up to a system with a lower build cost, higher DC system size, and similar annual kWh production,” said the company.

The terrain-following mounts are compatible with all conventional module formats and sizes, said the company.

After completing the design phase, the company uses installation robots to deploy the solar panels, which it said reduces installation time and costs. Planted Solar said its design mitigates impacts like erosion on the developed land, which is explained in a whitepaper.

“Planted’s low-impact approach to fixed-tilt solar PV foundation and table installation is novel in its automation, low impact/low disturbance, and tolerance to using existing ground conditions without grading. Furthermore, the low-area cross-section of the Planted foundation legs should reduce local scour when compared to the traditional pile. Installing using Planted’s methodologies will reduce disturbance and resultant hydrological and hydraulic impact to a site versus traditional installations of solar arrays,” said Planted Solar.

Planted Solar’s design mitigates the need for vegetation removal and erosion.

Planted Solar chief executive officer Eric Brown said it is rapidly “moving from pilots to portfolios.” The company announced it was selected for an 11 MW portfolio of projects in the Chicago area with Cultivate Power.

“Planted Solar gives our team a strategic tool to be stewards of the land and develop better projects with our community partners,” said Brian Matthay, co-founder and managing director of Cultivate Power. “Cultivate is focused on collaborating with landowners and communities so we can integrate solar seamlessly with the local environment and agricultural operations.”

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