By Beth Kuchar — December 1, 2016
We sat down with Edisun Microgrids, an Idealab company, to talk about solar trackers and what makes Pasadena such a great place for new technology companies.
Mention solar energy these days, and you’ll likely think of Elon Musk and the recently announced SolarCity and Tesla solar roof tiles. While Musk’s team are doing much to make solar more attainable for residential, other tech companies — like Pasadena startup Edisun Microgrids — are working to bring photovoltaic technologies within reach for commercial and industrial properties everywhere.
Founded in 2013, the innovative startup — which currently operates out of technology incubator Idealab — caught the interest of CEO Bill Gross. Gross, who has been involved in many other solar ventures throughout the years, has a keen interest in creative technologies that are looking to solve challenges presented by climate change. Edisun Microgrids has an entire suite of technologies that their engineers have developed and are continuing to develop to address challenges facing renewable energy in the U.S. and globally. Now, Edisun’s newly launched PV Booster is beginning to make waves as the first and only dual-axis solar tracker designed and built for commercial and industrial rooftops.
“We’re making solar more affordable, and PV Booster is a big step in the right direction.”
Until PV Booster, the rooftop market was not able to take advantage of solar tracker systems. Edisun’s engineers worked to overcome the various issues that prevented trackers from being a viable option for flat rooftops. With their new dual-axis design, weight, size, and wind no longer present a barrier; for the first time, the rooftop panels can track the sun, allowing for increased output of those same panels. This means you need less equipment and the project is less expensive overall, says Conrad Chase, Sales Director at Edisun. “We’re making solar more affordable,” says Chase, “and [PV Booster] is a big step in the right direction.”
Finding the Affordable Path to the Sun
This new technology not only allows for less common tracker placements, but it also makes solar more affordable, says Chase. A whopping 20% project overall costs savings in fact, according to the company’s data sheets. This is due largely to a 30% energy gain, a big boost over typical fixed-tilt installations. About four or five years ago, says Chase, the average amount of time to recoup initial technology investment costs in solar was around ten years. Today, he says, as panel prices and other costs have come down, the time has been reduced to around five years. But with Edisun’s tracker design constantly tracking the sun, customers can now recoup their investment in three and a half years. The path to affordability and the path that generates the most energy are one and the same.
“Let’s say a project developer or building owner is trying to hit a certain amount of generation from solar to offset their building [costs]. So that’s kilowatt hours that they’re not going to be consuming from the grid. If they used fixed panels — as in they’re just stationary — they need about 25% more panels and more racks and more wiring and more install to get that same amount of kilowatt hours than using our system.” describes Chase. That’s a difference that could make solar a more attractive choice for commercial buildings. For building owners, says Chase, that’s always the challenge. “Buyers want to know if it ‘pencils out’. Well, if you have your panels pointed at the sun all hours of the day, it absolutely pencils out. It’s above and beyond a good value to have your panel always pointed at the sun.” And Edisun’s tracking design means significant energy gains.
Tackling the Rooftop Market
For Edisun’s competitors, wind tolerance, weight, and size constraints all have traditionally prevented the typical commercial rooftop install from being able to continuously face solar panels towards the sun using tracking. But, says Chase, the dual-axis tracking technology changes the game.
“The way that the other technologies are designed, they require a lot of heavy equipment and foundations and cement to account for high wind. But what we’ve done is actually put a tracker behind every single panel. Instead of having this big structure that operates a bunch of panels at the same time, our equipment is light because it’s distributed across different panels. The pivot point of each panel is in the front, which means that during high winds the panel on every single tracker can stow itself down and lay flat. Because it has such a low profile, it’s rated for very high wind speeds.” Up to 115 miles per hour in fact, according to the company.
This pivot point design seems simple, but has been the key to the tracker’s success. Having the pivot point in the front of the panel not only visually makes more sense, shares Chase, and its this little change that allows it to withstand high wind speeds because it can stow itself flat when needed.
The Perfect Locale for a Groundbreaking Startup
As popular interest in solar begins to increase, Edisun feels the time is right to bring their unique solution to industrial and commercial buildings. And what better starting place, says Chase, than in their own backyard in Pasadena, California.
Having a big launch in Pasadena is ideal, he says, because the company can quantify the savings for every potential client. The company will also able to address questions of reliability for a new technology. “‘Is it actually going to work? Am I going to put this up and it’s not going to work in a few years?’ The benefit of us doing this locally is if there’s any kind of challenge we are literally a two-minute drive from you. Our team of brilliant engineers are right down the street and can make sure everything goes according to plan.” shares Chase.
The small startup sees other benefits to doing business in Pasadena as well. A top choice for many other tech startups looking to roll out new products and technology, Edisun has found support from the city itself. When asked about local support, Chase replies, “We have the support of [Pasadena Water & Power], a very forward-thinking utility. If we went to some other neighboring community it might be a totally different story. The businesses, government and institutions all have a better incentive here than any of the surrounding cities. We have a great utility provider.”
Operation: Solar Pasadena
With rising and unpredictable energy costs looming, how can commercial entities get in on the ground floor? Chase says this all ties back to their local rollout, with Edisun looking to offer special discounts to Pasadena area businesses and commercial buildings. While he notes that each install is different, local customers can expect to save at least 20% to their current rate of power through this special program. The goal, it seems, would be to push an already innovative city into into the forefront when it comes to the changing economics of utility consumption.
In addition to the company’s discounts for locals, two government incentive programs are available to businesses investing in this new technology. The federal tax incentive, the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), provides a 30% tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties. The credit has helped annual solar installation grow by over 1,600% since it was implemented in 2006. The city of Pasadena also offers a rebate program, the Pasadena Solar Initiative (PSI), aimed at helping customers install 14MW of solar power by 2017. According to the city’s website, as of October 31, 2016 Pasadena Water & Power has “installed and committed funds for a Net Energy Metering (NEM) capacity of approximately 9.3 Megawatts or 3% of the system peak demand of 307 Megawatts.”
Conrad Chase says if there’s one thing he’d like everyone to take away from all this, it’s that solar is within reach for everyone. While Edisun Microgrids has targeted an industry with a huge potential for disruption, they also have their work cut out for them. There’s no lack of commercial solar energy solutions providers, with a new solar project installed every 2.5 minutes in 2014; the industry is also heavily cost competitive. In the end, that’s good news for all of us, as we are set firmly on a path to a resource revolution.
For more information about Edisun Microgrids, visit http://edisun.com/. To learn more about special discounts for Pasadena industrial, commercial, and municipal properties, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For details about special rebate and government programs to promote the use of clean energy, visit http://energy.gov/ and http://www.cityofpasadena.net/waterandpower/.