Ground mount solar typically means building a racking system to hold an array of solar panels. Sometimes, tracking equipment is added to those racks so the panels can follow the sun like sunflowers. Both add significantly to the cost of a solar installation. Erthos has a better idea.
The Tempe, Arizona, company thinks it’s best to simply lay the solar panel on the ground. Doing so reduces the cost of a solar facility by 20%. Yes, there are trade-offs. Those panels will produce less electricity if they are not aimed directly at the sun, but Erthos believes the loss of efficiency is more than made up for by the lower costs.
There’s another benefit as well. Erthos claims it is possible to fit more solar panels into a given area of land than is possible with traditional installations that use racking systems. That can be an important benefit where there are land use constraints. In addition, the company says its systems can be installed in half the time it takes to complete conventional systems. Here’s what Erthos has to say about itself on LinkedIn.
“Erthos is a solar power deployment platform that is fundamentally transforming the utility-scale solar industry. By building its novel technologies on a foundation of proven PV module and inverter products, it minimizes adoption risk and provides immediate bankability. Applying the principals of structural simplicity, intelligent supervision, and autonomous operation, Erthos does what no other solar power plant can do.
“The Erthos team has aggregated experience of more than seven gigawatts of deployed solar, including the development, EPC, and financing of several of the world’s largest solar power plants. Its executives and management hail from companies including Tesla, Intel, Sterling & Wilson, First Solar, Canadian Solar, SMA, and Solar Frontier.
“The team has extensive experience in global markets, including the US, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Asia and the Pacific. In addition to expertise in the areas of solar development, EPC, project engineering, and new solar product development, the team boasts experts in the areas of mathematics, advanced thermodynamics, software engineering, industrial controls, robotics, and IIoT.”
Not a bunch of lightweights, in other words. According to a recent press release, Erthos currently has 14 megawatts of projects under contract and a signed agreement for a 100 MW project in hand. In all, it has commitments with five of the top US and global utility scale solar developers.
Encore Renewable Energy, a leader in community scale renewable energy and energy storage development with headquarters in Vermont, has signed an MOU with Erthos for a noteworthy project in their portfolio. “As a forward-looking company, our team is always looking to improve the value of our projects with innovative technology,” says Chad Farrell, CEO of Encore Renewable Energy. “Erthos is answering that call for a project of ours, significantly improving project economics with its novel earth-mounted approach.”
In June of 2021, when Erthos came out of stealth mode, Canary Media said, “It’s a radical innovation that challenges a basic architectural tenet of utility-scale solar — and the $3 billion business of trackers and racking. By eliminating what it sees as ’a tremendous amount of unnecessary materials and risks,’ Erthos claims it can build a solar power plant in half the time on one-third of the land, all while using 70 percent less cable and trenching. ”
Erthos claims its design requires “only light civil engineering,” with a system that can be used in different topographies with little need to grade, making it simpler to install than other systems. It has recently signed an agreement for a 100 MW system with project developer Industrial Sun for a utility scale solar installation in Texas.
Industrial Sun tells Canary Media that land constraints would have prevented the proposed site from being developed with conventional solar technologies that typically require five to 10 acres of land per megawatt of capacity. Erthos claims that its mounting scheme requires less than 2.5 acres per megawatt.
Racking systems account for about $0.15 per watt for a 100-megawatt system in the US today, according to a recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. The costs of steel and the other components needed to construct those racking systems is rising, which is driving the cost of grid-scale solar higher in many cases.
Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, which led Erthos’ financing round earlier this year, told Canary Media last March he believes the company can lower large scale solar installation costs by 20% with its new structural approach just by eliminating traditional racking systems.
“A cost reduction of 20 percent in a mature industrial commodity market like solar is unheard of. If the Erthos approach is viable and financeable, it could be the step change the solar industry needs to maintain its torrid growth and continue replacing fossil fuel generation,” Canary Media says.
Logically, putting solar panels directly on the ground makes a lot of sense. Today, lots of panels are being installed on the flat roofs at big box stores and carports. Maybe they are not as efficient as solar panels mounted on a racking system that points them toward the sun, but the structures already exist. Why not use them to harvest as much of the sun’s energy as possible? Sometimes good is good enough.
Of course there are places where the Erthos system would not work, mainly in snowy latitudes, although the company could probably develop a small autonomous snow plow for those places. But the idea would be perfect for Florida, where concerns about wind damage from hurricanes are always present. Recent experience suggests those concerns may be overblown, however, as there were no reports of significant damage to solar farms in Florida because of hurricanes this year.
For more about Erthos and its novel solar installation techniques — including its automated solar panel cleaning bot — please watch the video below.
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