A Solar Startup Emerges To Track The Sun on Roofs and Boost Productivity
A young solar startup has modified gear that’s commonly used on big ground-based solar panel farms to be used on the rooftops of large buildings.
It’s a rare entrepreneurial effort to build a new type of solar hardware in an industry that is increasingly focused on lowering costs.
On Wednesday, startup Edisun Microgrids launched technology that brings what are called “trackers” onto the roofs of commercial and industrial buildings.
Trackers are commonly used on sprawling, ground-mounted solar panel farms to move the panels so that they face the sun throughout the day as it moves across the sky. Trackers boost the amount of energy that panels generate, and collectively lowers the overall cost for the farm to generate energy.
But using trackers on roofs today is relatively uncommon, thanks to the complex conditions on rooftops, like strong gusts of wind and the fact that anything nailed onto a roof needs to be lightweight.
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Edisun Microgrids has designed a tracking system specifically optimized to be placed onto a large roof. Its tracker pivots from the bottom edge of a panel instead of from the center of a panel, where most trackers operate. That means it can operate snugly against the roof and avoid sticking out too high, which would mean catching those potentially hazardous high winds. The tracker can also retract to make it completely flat against the roof.
The result is a system that can boost the energy generated by rooftop panels by over 30% compared to fixed-tilt racking for solar panels, and over 40% for rooftop solar panels that are flat against the roof, says Bill Gross, the company’s CEO. He says the technology can make solar panels on certain roofs—large and flat—much more economical.
Gross has been working on new solar ideas for several years now. He founded the incubator Idealab, based in Pasadena, Calif., which has helped create a half dozen solar startups over the past almost-decade.
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But Gross tells Fortune that he was so excited about Edisun Microgrid’s solar roof tracking idea that he decided to join and lead the company himself. The company was previously developing other solar gear for systems that concentrate sunlight onto solar panels to help increase energy output.
Other solar startups incubated by Idealab include eSolar, a company that builds solar energy farms, and RayTracker, a startup that developed ground-mounted solar tracking technology and was sold to First Solar in 2011 (FSLR).
Like RayTracker, other startups have been able to find big markets for solar trackers. Electronics giant Flex, for example, acquired startup NEXTracker last year for $330 million.
But it’s still a hard market to make new types of solar gear and sell it at a low enough cost to compete with the big companies out there.
Edisun Microgrids has installed around 250 of its rooftop trackers at a site in Pasadena, and it plans to start installing trackers for its first customers later this year or early next year.
The company plans to show off the tech for the first time publicly at a big solar conference in Las Vegas later this month. “We think it’ll be pretty revolutionary,” says Gross.
Updated at 12:00PM on September 9th, to correct the energy boost from the trackers compared to other technology.