Rute Foundation Systems says its Rute Suntracker system – designed for large-scale, high-clearance solar power – could potentially reduce steel usage by 30%.
Rute Foundation Systems, founded in Oregon in 2015, specializes in modular foundations for renewable energy. But in 2021, it focused its sites above ground, designing the patent-pending Suntracker for high-clearance solar installations like agrivoltaics.
Agrivoltaics, the practice of co-locating solar power generation with agriculture, is gaining momentum around the world as prime solar land becomes scarce and the benefits of combining solar energy solar to farmland become more evident. For example, researchers at the University of Arizona have found that solar panels improve crop yield in dry environments by providing shade. Additionally, sheep grazing among the solar panels was used to manage grasses on the site, achieving an agricultural form of O&M. An agrivoltaic array is typically elevated above 8 feet to allow farming to continue below, and that’s where the Suntracker design comes in.
“While good for the landowner, agvoltaics has always been a tough sell for the developer,” said Doug Krause, president of Rute Foundation Systems. “Now that we have a system with an attractive economy for all stakeholders, we expect large-scale dual-use agrivoltaics to grow exponentially”
The Suntracker system is suspended by cables, rather than mounted on steel driven into the ground, providing what the company says is the lowest levelized energy cost (LCOE) for high clearance solar power. Rute reports that by using cables rather than steel foundations, steel usage is reduced by up to 30%. Another advantage of the cable system is that there is no need to disturb the ground to install the system, which is an advantage in the agricultural industry. It also allows the land to be returned to its original state in the event of the dismantling of the solar installation.
Rute compares its Suntracker installation to a cable suspension bridge. The cables not only hold the system in place, like in a suspension bridge, but they also use the cables to rotate the panels to follow the sun. Tracking systems provide up to 28% more electricity than stationary panels, the company reports. With its lower cost and the added revenue from tracking, Rute says its Suntracker is the first agrivoltaic system to achieve a leveled LCOE competitive with conventional solar.
Rute received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and Corporate Affairs in Oregon to build a pilot, and the company is currently building its proving ground at the Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose, Oregon.
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