Ground-mount solar without piles

 Hardware / Posted 11 months ago by Thomas Karli Reis / 509 views


Massive Reduction of Labor Costs

At Intersolar North America 2017, we caught wind of
a new fixed tilt ground-mount system developed by
Nuance Energy, but at the booth there was no
physical system on display. Instead, Founder and
CEO Brian C. Boguess handed me VR goggles to look through,
which now feels appropriate because it was a glimpse into the
future of modular ground-mount solar.
Nuance isn’t trying to play in the cut-throat utility-scale space,
where an extra half penny per watt will cause a riot. Instead, the
Nuance approach is about nimbly deploying smaller systems
much quicker and to the benefit of small- to mid-size contractors
and EPCs, increasing their revenue by enabling them to sell
more solar quicker and cultivating a more robust, widespread
solar industry.
“Where do you find savings? Always in the downstream,”
Boguess says. “The upstream value chain has been beating itself
up over technology to drive price down but no one paid attention
to the downstream value chain.”
It all starts here: Nuance’s Osprey PowerPlatform is a
ground-mount system that doesn’t require piles but is strong
enough to withstand any load. Instead of piles and foundations,
this new system borrows from the super old concept of anchors
(5 in.) and cables (stainless steel, 60-in. long) that has been
Ground-mount solar without piles?
Nuance Energy shows us the way
By Chris Crowell
— Eric Goodwin, OMCO Solar
28 MAY/JUNE 2018
mounting utility poles and holding up
retainer walls for a century. Those load
anchors are sent into the earth and pull
tested in real-time conditions (Nuance
requires 1.5 times the worst case scenario
for its design load test) and attached to the
racking — a unit of four to six adjustable
legs that is fully assembled with PV and
wiring at ground-level. And yes, this
means the entire system, if needed, can be
disengaged and moved. We’ll explore
those implications at the end.
With that as our starting point, grab a
paddle and let’s head downstream.
Good bye geotech
Geotechnical reports are often done
months in advance of the installation so a
structural engineer can design the groundmount
system per the requirements of the
geotech report. All in, this is a couple thousand
dollars and a six- to eight-week process.
What if you wanted to perform a geotech
investigation in the fall? You might not even
get the calculations back until the New Year,
at a time when delays are equal to death.
As mentioned, the Osprey’s anchors are
pull tested on site with a safety factor of 1.5
the worst case design load. This real-time
condition test gives engineers the best knowledge
of the soil at that time, eliminating the
need for the geotech report ordering, process
and price. That is just the start of how using
the Osprey saves EPCs time and money.
Master of your domain
Larger projects are often the realm of
larger companies or require a smaller company
to rent equipment and wait for a
larger company to deliver it. This is a perfectly
fine system, but removing piles and
removing the large equipment needed to
drive them opens up the market even more
for a wider variety of contractors, defragmenting
the market.
“The small guy gets beat up over concrete
and relying on outsourced teams to
drive the product in the ground with heavy
equipment they rent or lease, which means
the equipment is on that company’s time,
not the EPC’s,” Boguess says.
Even in the most efficient outcome from
order placement to equipment delivery to
pile driving, the mere fact of being on
another company’s timeline adds extra
time to project development and introduces
the possibility of delays. The possibility
of the delay has its own subtle chilling
effect on a contractor’s project pipeline.
If a larger project is delayed because equipment
is held up at another site, the contractor’s
delicate summer and fall project
window will be shattered and accounts
payable left in the lurch. A system that is
fully installed by the contractor using only
hand tools gives full control of scheduling
back to the contractor.
“If you can’t control your installation
schedule, you can’t control your revenues
and accounts receivables,” Boguess says.
“For small- to mid-size EPCs, a lot of
these guys live project to project. If they
can’t control cash flow, they are stuck.”
Obviously a larger company working to
please investors with timely commissioning
and quicker returns on investment
would also benefit from the extra control
over scheduling, but the savings go deeper,
both in actual cost savings and costs avoided.
Large developers have slush funds
available to cover for unforeseen obstacles
under the ground. For example, a developer
putting a project in the ground in Florida
has to account for the threat of running
into limestone — both accidentally cracking
it and then working to avoid it if found.
Those threats don’t change the installation
of an anchor system, which can go in the
ground at any angle and avoid any such
obstacles, keeping slush funds put and
improving profit margins.
Nuance Energy procures its steel from
both U.S. and foreign suppliers. This has
not affected its model of packaging Osprey
units at its regional warehouses and shipping
them out with up to 40 units on a
truck. Freight costs can be reduced by up to
60 percent.
Labor savings
An all-handtool installation for a 5-MW
project might sound laborious, but Boguess
has compelling evidence of overall labor
savings achieved, in less time, with the
Osprey vs. a conventional large-scale
ground-mount installation.
“One of our first projects with Brad
Thomas, senior director of project management
[formerly of NEXTracker], was
only a 75-kW job. He had forecast three
weeks for the installation. The job was
finished in five days. He had overcalculated
by two weeks, saving $14,000. That’s 18.6
cents a watt on a 75-kW job.”
With minimal training, any local labor
crew can be employed to install the Osprey
system. The adjustable legs also reduce the
amount of site prep and grading needed.
New market: Lift and Shift
The niche for Nuance thus far has been
projects in the 10 kW to 5 MW range, but
applications within that range extend beyond
the conventional. For starters, Boguess has
seen a lot of activity in rural residential and
small agriculture in the Midwest, less sexy
solar locations like Illinois, Michigan and
“The smaller customer is anybody ordering
one to 10 units from us, and each unit
holds 5 to 6 kW,” Boguess says. “Residential
contractors have a cash flow business with
It is important to drive down both product and implementation costs
on our clients’ projects. We focus an enormous amount of energy on our
product designs to ensure they are both lean and structurally sound and
appropriate for each site. In addition, we are constantly challenging our
supply chain to reduce component costs, and we have built a robust services
team to ensure products are installed correctly and efficiently. For
example, in February, we were working with a team to install community
solar projects in Minnesota where it can get down to -60 degrees F. We
can do that because we have product options for solar tracker and racking
solutions and a level of expertise that allows us to address varying
The goal is to lower an EPC’s risk and ultimately save them money on
their project budgets along with ensuring their project’s success. Solar
FlexRack’s trackers are now available with a Self-Powered option, can accommodate
up to 90 modules per table, are compatible with all First Solar
(Series 4 and 6) and Solar Frontier modules.
Have options to
maximize yield
Steve Daniels, EVP of sales and
marketing, Solar FlexRack
three to four install teams out on roofs, and initially
they are afraid to take on 20-kW groundmounts
because they think it means taking two
crews off a roof. But we can keep them on the
roof and get 20 kW installed in four hours.”
Boguess even believes they’ve created a completely
new (and catchy!) application category
for solar called “Lift and Shift,” born from the
fact that the Osprey anchors can be disengaged
and the complete PV system above ground can
be literally lifted as is and shifted to another
location. This opens up totally new areas for
PV, such as temporary farm land and mining.
“We had the idea of financing modular
ground-mount systems with a PPA in the mining
industry,” Boguess says. “This is unheard of
because how will you finance a mobile
microgrid hybrid solution when you want to
move the asset every two years? We enable
mining operations or those EPCs in this space
to mitigate that risk because when that dig
doesn’t find what they want after two or three
years, they can lift and shift to redeploy the
asset, not leaving it stranded. A stranded asset
is what is holding up PPAs.”
Underneath power lines is also a brave new
world that’s now possible in California. Just
recently Los Angeles Department of Water
and Power (LADWP) awarded Nuance
Energy 40 50-kWac systems to be installed
using the Osprey PowerPlatform.
“Our strategy for keeping costs low is to
deploy solar arrays along existing transmission
lines, where we already have rights of way, and
to handle the installations entirely ourselves
with our own crews,” says Francisco Fernandez,
the lead electrical engineer in LADWP’s Solar
Power Engineering Department. This strategy
imposed two special requirements: easy removal
when necessary to affect repairs or upgrades
to the overhead transmission lines and ease of
installation by small crews. “The solution from
Nuance Energy met these two requirements.”
With LADWP’s system providing more than
26 million MHh of electricity annually to 1.5
million residential and business customers in the
city of Los Angeles’ 472 square miles, the potential
for solar energy deployments is substantial.
Added together, the Nuance Energy value
proposition is a compelling one, offering several
new opportunities for a wide variety of
solar contractors and EPCs to grow and solidify
their business.
Chris Crowell is the managing editor of Solar
Builder. | (585) 328-2011
in Solar Wire Management
• Commercial
• Residential
• Agricultural
• Ground Mounts
• Carports / Awnings
• Conduit Replacement
• Homeruns
• Vertical Runs
• Rodent Protection
• Row to Row Crossover
Versatility &

Please follow and like us:
Contact this listing owner