Innovative Company Announces First Utility-Scale Ground-Mounted Solar Farm
When you drive by a solar farm, you usually see the photovoltaic panels raised above the ground and tilted skyward by steel racks or frames. These racks typically cost $0.15 per watt to install for a 100 megawatt (MW) system. But what if solar companies could scrap the extra cost and install the solar panels directly on the ground?
This is exactly the approach that start-up Erthos is innovating. The company on Thursday announced plans to build the first large-scale ground-mounted solar farm, as Canary Media reported. While the total size of the Texas-based project is not yet known, it will be greater than 100 megawatts (MW).
“There’s no question that our business is continuing to accelerate,” Chief Commercial Officer of Erthos Charles Pimentel said in a press release. “That’s in large part because of our ability to deliver improved energy density, higher wind ratings, and short build times – and to do so at a lower cost.”
The price of renewable energy generally has been falling over the past decades, and solar is currently the cheapest form of renewable energy, according to Canary Media. Worldwide, the cost of new utility-scale solar projects fell by 88 percent between 2010 and 2021, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. In the U.S., the price of installing a solar plant fell by more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2021, according to Department of Energy figures reported by Ars Technica. By 2021, it was frequently less expensive to build a new solar plant than to buy natural gas for a fossil fuel-powered plant.
However, since 2021, the price of installing new solar has begun to creep up again. New solar contracts were up 30 percent in North America during the third quarter of 2022 compared with the third quarter of 2021, Inside Climate News reported. Part of this is due to an increase in the price of solar panels themselves. However, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offers incentives for manufacturing solar panels and other renewable energy equipment in the U.S., which should help with panel costs in the future.
Another factor is that the price of steel, aluminum, glass and other commodities is also rising, and this is where Erthos can help, according to Canary Media.
Capricorn Investment Group partner and early Tesla and SpaceX investor Ion Yadigaroglu told Canary Media in March that he thought the company’s method could lower solar installation costs by as much as 20 percent, and he backed up his faith by leading a $17.5 million Series B financing round in the company.
“I can say with a straight face that Erthos may be the single largest contributor to decarbonization that we’re involved with over the next decade,” Yadigaroglu told Canary Media at the time.
Erthos calls its technique Earth Mount Solar™ PV, according to the company website.
“Erthos has perfected the science of installing solar modules directly on the ground,” the website claims. “Leveraging the heat absorbing properties of the earth, unbeatable aerodynamics, lowest cost installation method, and robotic cleaning, Erthos offers the least-expensive and highest-performing system architecture for utility-scale solar power on the planet.”
The company argues that its method delivers more than two times the energy per acre and takes half the time to complete. The energy density was what attracted its partner for its latest project, the Austin-based Industrial Sun. Industrial Sun needed to provide 100 MWac, but did not have enough land to do so using a conventional racked installation. These usually need five to six acres per MWac generated, but the Earth Mount method only needs less than 2.5 acres per MWac.
“Erthos technology allows us to maximize our project capacity, particularly in those areas where our projects are land-constrained. Erthos is a very welcome solution for our business, and for any developer needing to up-size the capacity of their projects,” Industrial Sun Managing Director Wade Gungoll said in the press release.