Burlingame, California Mayor Donna Colson inaugurated a unique six-unit dual axis solar tracker car canopy at the Kahala Tower near the San Francisco Airport, on November 13. The commercial installation is being called the first of its kind in the United States because of the technology involved.
The carport features six Mechatron M18KD-20 trackers, the largest dual axis trackers available in the United States, with each tracker supporting up to 100 solar panels. “We are pleased to inaugurate the next generation of solar carport here in the heart of Silicon Valley, and in keeping with our goals for decarbonization, we look forward to more installations of this technology to provide a Greener future for the city,” Colson told CleanTechnica.
Because the tracker captures light earlier in the morning and in the early evening, it yields 45% to 60% more energy than a fixed-tilt solar array using the same number of solar panels, at a cost of about 50% less than fixed-tilt, says Michael Fakukakis, the CEO of Mechatron, which is based in Stockton, CA. The dual-axis design also out-performs single-axis trackers with a 20% energy boost, he notes.
The Mechatron array will provide a Levelized Cost of Energy at 7 cents per kWh, compared with an estimated LCOE of 24 cents for a fixed-tilt design. Because of its superior cost-benefit, the Mechatron tracker enables a Return on Investment of less than four years, Fakukakis says.
Several other commercial installations where the property owners paid high demand charges and Time-of-Use charges for electricity to the local utility, the ROI has been as short as three and a half years, Fakukakis says.
“This solution just made sense. It will provide 95% of our energy demand and save us $150,000 a year,” says Mehrdad Elie, the CEO of ElieCorp., the owner of the Kahala Tower. Elie plans to add several EV charging stations to the solar array, each of which can recharge up to nine vehicles.
Burlingame is within San Mateo County, which began issuing $16 million in grants last year for EV charging station infrastructure investment for multi-resident buildings and commercial buildings — said to be the largest such program in the state thus far — aimed at accelerating the adoption and use of EVs in the county.
The county Community Choice Aggregator, or quasi-governmental Green electricity supplier, Peninsula Clean Energy, is developing the EV program.
“We plan to move the needle on vehicle electrification in a serious way,” says Rafael Reyes, the Director of Energy Programs for PCE.
The overall energy savings of the Mechatron system, along with the Federal ITC 30% tax credit for solar installations, and with a 5-year MACRS accelerated asset depreciation, results in a 3.5 year ROI for the Kahala Carport investment compared with an average 8-9 year ROI for fixed-tilt canopies.
The M18KD-20 tracker tilt capacity at the site is limited to 20 degrees on the zenith axis in order to limit its platform distance from the parking pavement by at least 9.5 feet as is required by Burlingame building codes. At stow, the lowest point on the tracker table is 15 feet. The trackers also move through a 360 degree azimuthal axis range.
Each tracker on the Kahala array supports 90 Peimar 72-cell 370 W panels generating total power of 33.3 kW each; each tracker is connected to 3-phase string inverters from Solectria.
One feature of the Mechatron technology is its reliability, which stands in strong contrast to the past history of large-table dual axis trackers deployed in Europe, and particularly in Spain, Fakukakis notes. The company’s trackers have demonstrated a 99.9% up time in operations dating back to 2008, he says.
To guarantee the performance, Mechatron offers a 20-year performance warranty for $300 per tracker per year, he notes. The cost of the warranty is the equivalent of 1 cent per Watt.
A key reason for the durability of the tracker is that the main mechanical guiding system uses no gears, Fakukakis points out. The mast turns horizontally on ball bearings through hydraulic actuators and is stopped by a concentric dual-brake system that allow minimal slippage to avoid break-point stress, he says.
Mechatron has installed over 4,200 trackers at over 900 locations in the United States and Europe, with over 90 MW of installed capacity.
The company has worked with over 500 EPCs world-wide, and it has an over-lapping global network of suppliers in China, Mexico, Greece, Italy and Spain, within the company’s expanding strategic network.