The 100-megawatt utility-scale solar project just announced by Erthos is not even close to the largest solar project currently being developed in the U.S., but it will be the only large solar farm with panels installed directly on the ground, without elevated steel racking or trackers.
Erthos signed an agreement with project developer Industrial Sun for the utility-scale solar project in Texas. It’s unlike any other big solar project ever deployed, using an approach that has the potential to take a bite out of the rising costs of solar installations, according to Erthos’ founders and funders.
It’s a radical innovation that challenges a basic architectural tenet of utility-scale solar — and the $3 billion business of trackers and racking. By eliminating what it sees as "a tremendous amount of unnecessary materials and risks,” Erthos claims it can build a solar power plant in half the time on one-third of the land, all while using 70 percent less cable and trenching.
Erthos contends that its design requires "only light civil engineering,” with a system that can be used in different topographies with little need to grade, making it simpler to install than other systems.
Industrial Sun said that land constraints would have prevented the new project’s site from being developed with conventional solar technologies, which typically require five to 10 acres of land per megawatt of capacity. Erthos claims that its mounting scheme requires less than 2.5 acres per megawatt.
A 20% reduction in utility solar cost?
While solar is the cheapest source of new energy generation, the price of installations is no longer falling. From 2010 to 2021, the levelized cost of installing utility-scale solar fell 88% thanks to economies of scale, better technology and supply-chain improvements, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. But in the last couple of years, supply-chain issues have halted these price declines globally, and tariffs have added costs in the U.S. Meanwhile, global commodities such as steel, aluminum and glass, which are increasing in price, now account for more of the cost of a solar panel. As a result, solar contract pricing is now rising in the U.S.
Erthos is bringing installation costs down by eliminating racking, which in the U.S. currently accounts for about $0.15 per watt for a 100-megawatt system, according to a recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.
Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, which led Erthos’ financing round earlier this year, told Canary Media in March that he believes the company can lower large-scale solar installation costs by 20 percent by eliminating steel racking with its new structural approach.
A cost reduction of 20 percent in a mature industrial commodity market like solar is unheard of. If the Erthos approach is viable and financeable, it could be the step change the solar industry needs to maintain its torrid growth and continue replacing fossil fuel generation.
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