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Hilton opens Australia’s biggest tracking solar rooftop array

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A local Australian steel products manufacturer is making waves in the solar world, recently installing on its own premises a rooftop solar farm that utilises ‘follow the sun’ technology to substantially increase power generation.

The 340 sun-tracking solar panels arranged on top of Hilton Engineering’s 15,000 square metre factory in the Dandenong South, in the south east extremities of Melbourne, were switched on for the first time on October 4t.

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 12.11.52 PMThis ‘sun-tracking’ technology allows the 98.6kW array to generate up to 40% energy than just normal stand-alone technology.

The project idea came about two years ago while working with ABB, an automated technology group, to start working on a test site. Hilton was happy to put forward their rooftop for the project.

The frames and tracking technology were built by Hilton and programmed by ABB. The benefit of Hilton’s lightweight frame means that the factory did not require any additional support requirements – a frequent problem for commercial rooftops.

The panels were provided by UpSolar and retrofitted with Tiogol technologies on each panel that enabled Hilton to monitor individual capacity and maintenance.

Jacques Esper, the project manager for Hilton, said that no one had done this type of an installation in Australia before and they wanted to make sure it was cutting edge technology.

“We spoke to our Managing Director about investing in the project, as the grant doesn’t cover the ‘follow the sun’ technology, and he was quite happy to invest to that little bit more to get great returns”.

The extra investment also allowed for a 40 square metre-viewing platform that that could be used in tours as a means to showcase the panels.

The company says the installation will provide 25 per cent of the power needs of the energy intensive business and reduce its bills accordingly. However, because the factory is closed half of Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, some excess power will have to be sold back to the grid.

Hilton has plans to sell and duplicate the project to other factories and Esper says there is interest from local and international companies.

Hilton applied for a $250,000 clean technology investment grant from AusIndustry and received approval early this year. The project took approximately six months to complete.

 

 

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  • Jeremy

    Great to see investment and innovation. Does anyone know the cost of the tracker? Or, why they didn’t use a standard fixed tilt?

  • RobS

    I was certainly under the impression that panel prices have fallen so much that tracking costs more then just overbuilding the panels. Anyone have any figures? It can certainly maximise output in the early morning and late afternoon which reduces battery requirements in an off grid scenario, however a similar effect can be achieved cheaper by positioning some of the array east and some west in a fixed array.

    • Stan Hlegeris

      Hi Rob–

      You’re right if you’re talking about household applications. Houses use relatively little electricity and have lots of roof area.

      A steel manufacturer uses lots of electricity in a small area. This one ran out of roof before they could instal enough fixed-position panels. Tracking, with its extra cost, was the only way to get the electricity they wanted, regardless of how cheap the panels are.

      At home you’d approach it differently. If you need more electricity, adding a few extra panels is by far the cheapest way to get it.

    • Alan

      They are obviously trying to claim the STCs. If they went any bigger than 100kW then they would not be eligible for STCs. Tracking gives the extra capacity without sacrificing the upfront discount.

      • wideEyedPupil

        Interesting. Can you confirm that, Giles/Emma?

        • james2martin

          Alan’s observation is a good one–renewable energy systems up to 100kW are considered ‘small scale’ under the renewable energy target and therefore eligible to create STCs instead of LGCs (which offer an ongoing benefit but no up-front discount). I can confirm on behalf of Giles and Emma that this is indeed the case–have looked into it before.

    • Alan

      East West positioning of panels is very much over rated. You are only shifting the peak an hour of so and reducing the overall energy production. In this particular case I think they have made the best decision.

      • RobS

        I have two strings in my 3kw system, one facing north, the other east. The east string peaks on average about 4 hours earlier than the northern string. Morning peak demand comes around 8-9 am whilst my east facing panels have peak production around 9-10, in an off grid or high solar grid scenario any morning peak demand not generated at the time must be stored from the previous afternoons generation meaning 15-18 hours storage, with battery costs as they are at present that is a very expensive proposition. Evening demand only needs to be stored from that afternoons surplus production making west facing solar less beneficial.
        I’m not sure where you are Alan but in case its not Australia keep in mind that we are paying $1.50, often less for fully installed grid connect solar here, hell pretty soon we’ll be putting panels on south facing roofs they’ll be so cheap.

  • Stan Hlegeris

    I think you made an inadvertent mistake by implying that the weight of a PV system is “a frequent problem for commercial rooftops.”

    It’s certainly not the weight. A PV system adds a few kilograms per square meter to the load on a roof–a tiny fraction of the load imposed by one person standing on that roof. Any roof that can hold itself up can take the trivial added weight of a PV system.

    The issue is more likely to be wind–pretty much a non-issue for flush-mounted systems. In this specific case, the panels will be exposed to big wind loads, and I expect that it is this problem that the company’s “light weight frame” addresses.

    • Alan

      It is a frequent problem for commercial projects; try submitting the design to a structural engineer and see the response. I think the problem is too many cowboys don’t even bother and make the assumption it is going to be OK. Modern buildings are often made as close to margin as possible (read – as cheap as possible) so the capacity for PV is often restricted.

  • MoreBikesPlease

    I expect they lost money on the tracking. But you can bet it’s made of their own steel. And uses tech from their mates at ABB. So it’s written off to marketing and product development.

  • james2martin

    I’m curious about the 98.6kW figure–In my mind this would simply be the nominal panel capacity and have nothing to do with the tracking, which would increase the capacity factor of the array from around 20% to presumably about 30%? Any thoughts?

    • wideEyedPupil

      My though is that’s 50% increased capacity (20% to 30%) for the addition of solar tracking.

      Surely tracking costs can be managed to get systems well under that kind of margin and make them profitable. The micro-electronics could be printed onto thin film circuits for as little as 5¢ a panel if that thin-film sensor and electronics thing Xerox PARC is developing comes to fruition soon, so it’s just the servos and manufacturing I guess. Installation costs should be similar to fixed array costs.

  • james2martin

    Also wondering if ‘Tiogol’ was meant to be ‘Tigo’, the microinverter manufacturer?