A Least Cost Approach to Ground Mount Solar – Earth Mount Solar PV with Jim Tyler, CEO, Erthos #157
the clean Power Hour is brought to you by CPS America the maker of North America's number one three-phase string inverter with over six gigawatts shipped in the US the CPS America product lineup includes three-phase string inverters ranging from 25 to 275 KW their Flagship inverter the CPS 250 275 is designed to work with solar plants ranging from 2 megawatts to 2 gigawatts the 250 275 pairs well with CPS America's exceptional data communication controls and energy storage solutions go to chinpowersystems.com to find out more but the reality is is that the adoption of this technology is inevitable because it's the lowest cost form of energy and it's it's no different than the adoption of single axis trackers where it was inevitable because it was the lowest cost form of energy and so it's just a matter of time until all the model providers recognize that and you know ultimately sign up to this technology are you speeding the energy transition here at the clean Power Hour our host Tim Montague and John Weaver bring you the best in solar batteries and clean Technologies every week want to go deeper into decarbonization we do too we're here to help you understand and command the commercial residential and utility solar wind and storage Industries so let's get to it together we can speed the energy transition you know when you think about ground Mount solar you either think fix tilt or tracker and increasingly tracker certainly that's the case here in North America but there's a third alternative now and that is flat to the ground solar you heard me right I know it sounds a little wonky at first but after you listen to this interview I think you will be convinced that there's a there there my guest today is Jim Tyler he is a storied energy professional he was the vice president of EPC at First Solar he was the co-founder of depcom and now he is the CEO of a company called earthos that is revolutionizing utility scale solar welcome to the show Jim Tyler thank you Tim it's a fantastic be here the clean Power Hour is brought to you by Dina Watts if you're a solar PV asset manager or performance engineer you need better data and better business intelligence with Dina Watts digital twin benchmarking technology you get more accurate efficient and faster performance measurement results the fourth generation Dino recently completed a technical review by dnv you can download the report at dinawatch.com that's d-e-n-o-w-a-t-t-s.com now back to the show I'm uh you know I'm a geek for racking and you're you're trying to do away with racking though Jim so this is uh truly a disruptive technology that you have innovated and I look forward to bringing this to our listeners you know uh solar is growing at a uh unsurpassed clip right ninety percent of new energy on the grid is wind and solar now and and we're just getting started really uh the easy part is cleaning the grid but but it's an important part of the uh you know of decarbonizing the economy and and stepping back from the brink of climate change and I know that you are a mission-driven entrepreneur but give our listeners a little bit of your history you'll have to keep it short because it is very storied um and then let's get into what is earthos and why is this a compelling product but give us give our listeners some background on yourself Jim sure I definitely appreciate the opportunity here Tim my uh really the beginning of my experience in industry was in food processing and in food processing a tremendous amount of energy gets used and I did many many things with uh with steam in that in that world of food processing um but I really got into the solar industry in about 2005 uh company um there was several companies but uh in in particular I started working on projects where there were thin film solar manufacturers in the Silicon Valley it was really the very pres the the very beginning of um uh these concepts of utility scale solar companies like Nano solar and Mia Soleil and I was designing Machinery to help manufacture that equipment I became aware of the industry at that time and then in 2007 I became aware of a company called optisolar which really was changing the nature of the industry in my opinion they had gone out and secured thousands and thousands of acres of land and interconnect Q positions in the state of California and help facilitate the renewable portfolio standard in state and I had the opportunity to go to work at Opti to build their manufacturing facility in Sacramento and then head up the EPC group at Opti with the First Solar plants built in in Sarnia in Canada 2008 along with everybody else I I you know the stock market crashed and Opti was a venture capital funding company and um uh you know Venture Capital dried up and First Solar had the opportunity to come in and and uh get a tremendous group of people and a fantastic set of projects and uh I I was one of the few that got an opportunity to go across First Solar and start to build their uh their EPC Division and that what a luxury just to be paired with so many incredible talented people um at that organization the uh as the market uh grew for solar grew at uh you know huge volumes and installation capacities that we were doing at the time and then the market really started to shift in the the technology of crystalline silicon uh just got better and better and better and I I had a I had a colleague tell me one time never bet against silicon uh there's it's one of the most studied uh materials on the planet and that was really very true and uh they they have really done amend a tremendous things to uh bring the cost of solar down and so in 2000 and um I guess 2014 or so uh went across and founded depcom power with a couple of colleagues and uh grew.com to what it is today it's one of the uh one of the top epcs in the country but really uh started to recognize you know it's the same thing over and over you keep bringing these Technologies to bear and uh it you know I had done just about everything you could do within the industry from the EPC the manufacturing developing projects and uh uh I was riding my bike one day and just said well what would happen if the solar panel uh the price of the solar panel were free it seems like an odd question but when I started the solar panels were five dollars plus a watt and when I exited in 2018 there were 27 cents a lot and um and there's a very real answer to that question economically it makes sense at about 50 odd cents a lot to put the solar panels flat on the ground it's just the nature of the economics of how things work um within within the product and so that idea happened in 2019 and that's when I really began to look into the intricacies of what would it take if you said okay yeah that works financially does it work technically and that was the impetus of the the Advent of earthos back in 2019 so I mean the it is incredible it's almost too good to be true that the cost of solar you know has fallen more than 90 percent since say 2013.
and uh all the while the technology gets more efficient you mentioned First Solar with their thin film technology still a major player in utility solar and then uh you know a slew of uh polycrystalline competitors uh uh nipping at their heels so to speak but the industry is driven by the finance ability and the cost of installation when we're talking large-scale solar and so that is one of the compelling things about earthos to me is that you're achieving an lcoe a levelized cost of energy that is perhaps 20 percent lower than other Technologies on the market and and um you know I want to talk about what why that is and what are the pros and cons of making this Innovation there's always trade-offs in with with any technology but um you know why did nobody do this before you Jim and those are great questions um I've been asked that question many times you know having been in the industry myself uh all the way through from the very first fixed tilt systems uh thin film you know with First Solar and then the Crystal and silicon and moving to trackers from fixed tilts if you hearken back to um around 2010 ish that type of a time frame uh uh pretty much all solar that was being installed of utility scale was being installed fixed Hill and while there were several companies that were looking at doing trackers including First Solar we acquired one of them um you know ATI was looking into it uh next tracker came along right in that time window you know there was quite a few companies uh SunPower had had their own tracker the The Dilemma uh the The Trackers provided a financial advantage they did right around 2010 as the price point of the solar panel continued to drop and the technology of The Trackers got better and better the efficiencies uh Rose it made Financial economic sense to move to a Tracker and uh however there was a huge number of risks uh what's going to happen with the bearing uh what about harmonic you know harmonic dampening and stuff I mean are the modules going to be able to sustain when they're up at uh you know 60 degree till tables there's all these variables the variable of inter row shading and uh you know just dozens and dozens of variables but the value the reason trackers they finally said go is because the economics drove drove it forward the levelized cost of energy is the sole driver it's the price of the electricity that matters because the buyer is the utility they buy the electricity they want the cheapest price they can get and so as the industry move forward in those early years 2008 910 and those ppas started to um to change it was always about the price of the electricity and so trackers had a financial advantage over fixed Hill and they started to be adopted even though the risks were huge in comparison there was no contest and then over a period of seven years trackers went from zero market share to 70 market share of the US driven by one variable the cost of electricity that comes out of the plant is cheaper even though there was more risks and other things associated with it and we've all seen the pros and cons and I've installed many of them personally I'm a big fan of many of the different tracker Technologies and companies that have come out so um so it's simply a question of the economics of the levelized cost of energy that matters and when you introduce a new technology what you know whether that's a new tracker a new module pick whatever the new technology you have to get that technology adopted and there's early adopters the Early adopters are typically the most financially constrained projects they're they're the most underwater their most pressure to try to get that new technology out there they take those initial risks and then as the technology gets adopted and and the banks start to become familiar with it the industry starts to become familiar with it it's it just starts to grow naturally on its own because the our purchase agreements that are being signed by the utilities are based on price and so there's a natural draw to reduction in the cost of electricity uh that drives the industry forward and earthos is simply the next step in that reduction in the cost of electricity now you ask the second question why didn't anybody think of this before because the reality is it it made Financial economic sense that about some it depends on geographic location but about 47 to 51 52 cents a lot well we crossed that threshold in 20 17 2016 time frame well there were companies that were doing something there was Peg and there was 5B which were doing a high density solar all pressed together still held up off the ground but it was high density solar and they saw those economics they saw that shift uh and so all earthos did is take it to the last stage put it all the way to the ground and that putting it all the way to the ground uh you know it totally eliminates all the steel 35 tons of steel per megawatt and just think about that number alone 35 tons of steel per megawatt and we're going to put in 23 000 megawatts of solar in the United States this year that's a massive shift I mean think about how much steel you're talking about in The amount of energy it costs to take to make all that steel and all the labor it takes to install it and all the transportation costs to get it there you eliminate all of that it just changes the economics dramatically dramatic shift in economics but there's a lot of headwinds to the technology you got to get these various people companies and industries to say yes and that's what we have been doing over the last uh two years since we announced our technology is getting through that uh technology adoption process so let's let's address some of my initial uh skepticism okay or I I worked for a large EPC in Northern Illinois I saw the switch from fixed tilt to trackers it was like a light switch being flipped it was like all of the designs from the developers we worked with went from fixed tilt to tracker overnight and and then we never looked back for you for anything a megawatt or about for ground Mount right and and that's and that's true today it's it's it's even more so now if you go to Canada things are different right at very high latitudes trackers lose their advantage but here in the Great Lakes certainly trackers are uh the the technology of choice but when you put solar panels on the ground they are going to be more exposed to some elements like water we have a very flat landscape here in Illinois Illinois used to be a giant swamp basically or a wet Prairie to to say it more romantically but um and and so drainage is is a major concern and and so when you submerge a solar array like that that sends up uh red flags for me what what are the what you know what how do you account for that can solar arrays sustain being submerged so when I first began this process I was concerned about two things one of them was temperature maximum temperature of the module and the other was water those were the first two things that that uh were of concern to me and before I ever said let's go uh hire people and go ask other people to invest I wanted to prove to myself that those two things were um were viable and so began the research on those two fronts so with regards to water interestingly that that problem uh I became aware of the process of manufacturing solar panels when I was working at First Solar there is a process where you submerge the solar panel in water it's in an electrolyte to run a test it's called a it's effectively a leakage current test where you put full sunshine on it but I was really surprised when I saw that I'm like it didn't really dawn on me that a solar panel could be submerged and then I started you know discussing it with the various people that uh colleagues of mine at First Solar and they say oh yeah they're they're completely waterproof uh and we think about energy and or we think about module performance over time and if you go back in time into 2004 five six seven eight uh uh damp heat was the number one category of degradation the thing that caused things to degrade faster and everyone was putting effort and energy into solving damp heat because it was a you know bane of everybody's existence so the edge seals and the the materials of choice for the the connectors and so on and so forth they just got better and better and better and uh so when you think about a solar panel that has to be out in the rain permanently it's effectively whenever it rains it's under it's it's it's um it's not underwater but it's exposed to a tremendous amount of water um the natural thought is that a solar panel should should be completely waterproof but when you say I'm going to physically put it under water people go oh you win you can't do that right there's a there's a mental break that that Engineers often have but the reality is it's no different than a piece of wire a wire has an electricity running through it but we bury wire all the time there's just insulation around the wire to prevent the electricity from getting out or aka the water getting in solar panels the same thing it's a great big insulated wire and it's got insulation all around it and so it turns out the you know of all of those parts of insulation the plastic parts are the susceptible part well plastic absorbs water over time well solar panels are generally rated to ip68 ip68 means one meter submerged for 24-Hour rating we've done a lot of testing on this subject they can go underwater for a lot longer than 24 hours at a meter um but but the reality is is that solar panels when you put them on the ground or when it rains you don't go design solar plants where there is a natural flood plain that's just it's not generally good practice for anyone to build a solar solar system in a natural flood plain right but when it rains and you get two or three inches of water and then that water runs off and it goes into the ground the reality is as the solar panels they'll be underwater for a short period of time uh and they're very very shallow water and that depth duration is actually the metric or the variable that matters and so we have what's called a depth duration spec that the solar panel the solar plant is designed to a 500 year storm event which limits the depth duration combination to a the number associated with the ip68 rating and and it turns out it works quite well and people just don't it's hard for them to appreciate that solar panels are actually waterproof so now what about the balance of system what about the connectors um and you know potentially junction boxes things like that can they also sustain being submerged they're they're uh as an as an object the plastic parts just like the plastic or the insulation on a wire um uh all of those materials are made to be uh immersed uh in water and the the subject of interest is the the rate with which the water goes into the plastic and changes the insulation resistance of the plastic there's actually a term called leakage current in all solar panels and there's an allowable amount of leakage current according to spec when you change that insulation resistance a little bit it allows for a slightly higher leakage current but there's natural protection devices built in that they're like circuit breakers they turn off when the leakage current gets too high the inverters uh protect for things of that nature but what we have found through now over two years of operation of our first solar of the first plant we installed uh even after it's gone through two years and it was in California with all those crazy rainstorms the uh uh We've we've proven that that leakage current subject is a non-issue it's a trivial result uh relative to the losses that you can expect I think we've we're losing uh 0.5 of the energy as a result of leakage current losses in our first planet which is a you know all things considered when you look at the total energy production um we're uh where I think our first plant is running at 90 uh creeping up on 99 performance index that's all losses included like soiling losses and uh uh shutdowns grid grid connection issues you name it it's all losses combined that first plant's running at 99 of performance index typical industry they'll run at 93 percent of performance index so we're proving without a doubt that the solar panels can be set flat on the ground and perform the way they're supposed to and not degrade actually not just not degrade they're degrading slower than we predicted yeah I want to I want to talk about that I want to talk about the degradation um walk us through though before we talk more about that and the overall performance walk us through a typical installation what are the the parts and pieces so to speak of an earthos array so our listeners can understand this just paint us a picture if you would sure well for those of you that are familiar with the industry you've put solar panels are sitting up on racks whether they're fixed tilt or trackers um uh we physically eliminate all of the steel from the plant and the solar panels are sitting on the ground the the frame of the solar panel is in physical contact with the dirt all the solar panels are sitting side by side edge to edge end to end there is a uh there's a cable uh what you call it an aircraft cable 1 8 inch diameter aircraft cable that spans uh through a series of holes in the sides of the panels that are installed in the sides of the panels and those cables all they do is tie the solar panels to each other so they don't move vertically relative to each other the cable is not tensioned or anything like that the cable Runs Out to the boundary of the array and it goes through a little concrete block and then the concrete block sits on the ground and then we connect the cable to the concrete block and that runs on through every single panel in both directions so you can think of it as a big mesh of flexible mesh made out of solar panels that's sitting flat on the ground with a concrete perimeter block uh protecting it from things like erosion water erosion that might want to go underneath the panels and things of that nature that concrete block performs that job so it's a very very simple set of Parts the solar panel the steel cables the concrete blocks and then the DC connectors that go from the solar panel strings all the way back to the inverters now there's a there's a magic trick that occurs with all of this and I learned this lesson when I was at First Solar we had we had the world's least cost electron at First Solar with this with the solar panel and that solar panel was patented and so we were taking uh we were taking a industry leading position as a as the solar module manufacturer patented lowest cost technology we're going to design standardized plants and we developed standard shapes and sizes for arrays and inverter sizes and and racking spacing and so on and so forth so we got really really close to being able to standardize kind of like an apple uh or you know an Apple Mac computer versus a you know a computer you know the PC based computers erthos because we've patented the solar panels on the ground the fundamental underlying technology of How It's assembled we get to control the standards with which you design the plant and that's what we've done so we've standardized the fundamentals of the design with string level inverters and when you do that you're able to standardize many aspects around the plant and that standardization facilitates further reduction in cost of those components that you'll ultimately use because you get to use high volume of those standardized components we were on the precipice of being able to do that for solar and then Chris Crystal and silicon passed in lots of inverter Technologies come along so but with earthos because we have those patents we're able to control those standards and reduce that cost to an absolute minimum threshold so it's a very powerful um powerful part of the underlying technologies that standardization um and so all the cables and the hardware the physical those are all through Marketplace that we've been developing with our suppliers in the supply chain that that feeds all of these parts and pieces the clean Power Hour is brought to you by CPS America the maker of North America's number one three-phase string inverter with over six gigawatts shipped in the US the CPS America product lineup includes three-phase string inverters ranging from 25 to 275 KW their Flagship inverter the CPS 250 275 is designed to work with solar plants ranging from two megawatts to two gigawatts the 250 275 pairs well with CPS America's exceptional data communication controls and energy store Solutions go to chinpowersystems.com to find out more so there's a couple other advantages that immediately spring to mind uh the speed of installation the amount of Labor and time involved in in installing a solar array and then uh the the o m so it talk talk about the installation and the O M for these types of installations so having installed I think I was up to about eight gigawatts of personal that I was involved in you know capacity and volume over my career with firstoland.com um the there's a very important metric that we always used which is man hours per megawatt how many man hours did it take to install one megawatt DC per plant um and it was a very accurate at predicting on a given project what that man hours per megawatt would be through uh the initial analyzes we determined that it would take about one quarter of the man hours per megawatt to install an eartho system than it would to install a let's say a next tracker tracker system uh modules grading everything all inclusive about so for every 100 man hours for a Tracker based system it would take us about 25. now uh that's when you get to scale so with the very small projects we've done we're running down in about 30 to 40 percent of that total volume but at the end of the day because you removed all of the racking all of the steel all the pile driving all the underground cabling you've cut the links there's no row spacing between arrays you cut the links between the inverter stations like less than half so all the cable that you run in the AC is less than half all the trenching that you got to do for all of that there's just so many places where the labor is is reduced and as many of your listeners know labor is one of the highest risks for any solar plant uh and the in the construction is that labor and the time duration to build the plan if you have to build a plant in Mississippi through the winter it's a real difficult place to do that Mississippi mud's kind of rough for those that have done it and um by cutting the land use in half and the time to build more than in half with half the number of people all of those risks are reduced are they still are there still risks there of course there are but the relative risk to building a Tracker plan on the same location is dramatically changed because you're disrupting less land you're not having to drive piles in all the ground oh every I mean all of those variables change so it's a a huge impact is the is the labor pool required uh drop you know when you move into the O M like you were saying that's a that's another thing if you don't have any racks to worry about that's one of the component costs of O M there's another big one uh and you know the image behind you with your setup it doesn't really show it but a lot of solar plants have a real issue with grass grass is growing up and in between the panels and they've automated they've attempted to automate grass uh mowing turns out grass mowing is a very expensive o m part or o m component just mowing the grass well not only do we have half the land the land is covered by 92 solar panels and the other eight percent is the roads so there's almost no grass associated with the solar plant at all inside the fence so while there's minor things to do uh it's really not a variable so that that one alone dramatically reduces the O M cost the variable part of O M cost you remove the trackers that one's gone as well so our total o m price comes down I think we're about 30 percent lower o m uh aggregate all in uh versus uh an equivalent uh tracker plant to the same uh size so you mentioned the footprint of the plant being half so if I hear you correctly 100 megawatt plant with trackers we would assume five acres per megawatt 500 acres for a hundred megawatt plant with earthos you're suggesting that you could squeeze this down to 250 acres is that right 230 to be exact okay so yes uh if if everything is Apples to Apples just you know you just take a a regular site whatever you can uh a Tracker plant generally is going to consume about five acre or five acres per megawatt um uh there's a lot of variables that go into that that's a big random round number with earthos it's not a random round number because the the ground coverage ratio is always basically going to end up at 92 percent just because of the nature of the Beast whereas with trackers row spacing intra row spacing matters it might be 17 foot rows but in some locations you might want to get all the way up to 21 foot rows based on inter row shading and elevation shifts and all these other variables that are quite complex to to analyze whether those is flat there's nothing to analyze you put it flat the only caveat there I guess the only caveat there Jim I guess is that you're going to use a higher D DC to AC ratio with earthos because the panels are flat to the ground right so you're getting a lower insulation value what is that what is that preferred DC to AC ratio it let's say in in the south in the desert Southwest in Southern California or Arizona so roughly speaking based on the price of solar panels today uh let's say a solar panel that you can buy your panel for 35 cents a lot just big round number picture pick a number the dcac ratio in the southwest in the United States is going to be roughly 1.75 that'll be the optimal dcac
ratio okay as the solar panel price drops the price the module goes down the DC AC ratio is actually going to go up um as the price goes up the DC AC ratio is going to go down so there's an interplay between those two and then depending on where you are geography if you're in Northern California versus New Mexico versus um uh let's say down in Florida um you'll actually use higher dcac ratios down in Florida for instance odd but that's the reality of an optimized site so um so anyway so that's the reality but as the solar panel price gets lower that's you're basically using more panels to do the same thing that a Tracker was doing so the solar panel guys love it right you're going to build a gigawatt AC of solar you're going to do 1.8 gigs DC versus 1.3 or so from a Tracker plan so you're just displacing who's who's getting paid it's this it's the module companies that are going to be making the money rather than the tracker companies right so you've gotten some projects under your belt now what are what are the reactions so far from your developer Partners or IPP Partners what objections do they have and and how are the projects going so far yeah so great question so uh just like you tick if you go like I said harken back to 2011 before trackers took off um in tracker designs started happening in 2008 2009 so they started doing their very small test plans uh back in those at that point in time that is where earthos was two years ago we were installing our first test plans so now you you progress forward we've got seven test plans in operation we've proven energy yields we've proven performance prediction we've proven the the robotic cleaning of uh autonomous robotic we've proven all these variables that we knew we needed to get done uh and now you're are putting your projects the the developers they're putting in bids right for rfps only they're using our technology in the bid for the RFP the first of those bids started a year ago when they started putting in bids with our technology so those rfps are starting to come true and people are starting to win rfps with our technology in it so that's the critical variable once you've won a bid with our technology in it the price point that you won the next guy what is he going to bid if you got five competitors into the same RFP who's going to bid what price and if you're able to reduce your lcoe price that you're bidding into that RFP by let's say five percent I mean theoretically you could move it all the way down by 20 but you don't want to do that right you want to you want to keep a lot of the money as a developer you want to keep your money in your own pocket so you reduce by five percent or six percent you win the bid your competitors your developer competitors they go well how did they win that bid how did they get their price that low there's only one way to get the price that low and it's to use an alternate technology so that that developer now has to go in and bid his next round now that technology slowly gets to gets integrated into the process of bidding we're in that process right now so to date earthos has uh right up at 200 megawatts of projects under contract uh uh we're getting ready to install our our first uh uh column five and eight megawatt scale project so significantly larger Footprints uh various installed locations around the country I think by the end of this year we'll have eight or nine megawatts of those plants installed uh but the big ones the ones at 20 megawatts uh up and the 100 megawatt and up we have one contract that many people may have heard of uh on 100 megawatt project in Texas um and and so that project is under contract we have several more 100 megawatt projects that are approaching contract for us uh and it's just it's the process you have to go through to go through get that technology adopted and we are absolutely in that Chasm right now getting ready to cross over that Chasm to the larger scale projects being adopted yeah you refer to a 100 megawatt project in Texas that's with industrial Sun what is the status of that project uh that project is in that it's in its development cycle so it's an interesting part about the earthos business model um people often think of us maybe as a a like a Tracker supplier uh or they think of us as an EPC uh two key aspects of the industry and reality we're neither of those um we are a technology provider that provides some materials but not all but we're the engineer of record for the developer so but when we begin the engineering cycle We Begin that cycle very early on in the development cycle of the project typically the engineer the the developers they might hire a black and Beach or a Burns a McDonald or a you know one of the engineering firms to support their development cycle they'll hire us to support their development cycle so that's a bit of a shift in the concept so we are we start at that very early stage so in the in the industrial Sun project we're in those stages so land control interconnect uh we're assisting them with the all of all of that aspect the power purchase agreement all of those things we're assisting them through those Cycles um uh in the development of those projects unfortunately they along with everybody else in the country are constrained by the interconnect Q cycle times and it's hitting everyone and that project is not immune to it any more than anybody else's project and so the the lead time to getting the project online and built and so on and so forth I mean in Texas you can get permits fairly quickly the interconnect Q is the sole long pole in the project we would be able to go to guns today if the interconnect queue is available but we all know that's a universal problem for all the speed limit by which our country is bound to install new solar into our grid and it's a huge problem because it was you know four years ago I was we were doing interconnect cues we're two years long now they're up in four-year time frames and that's just a massive I'm not the expert at that I've done it a lot been involved in a lot of projects but that problem has to get resolved for us to help facilitate a faster adoption of solar and wind and so on into our electric grid so yeah major pain point for the solar industry uh I want to talk about solar modules you are working uh with a variety of solar panel makers what is the process that you go through to to onboard those companies and then let's talk about um module reliability and degradation because that that is a unique story to tell with earthos so fundamentally part of our our business model is we create what we what we're calling a a solar Marketplace where various companies that provide certain aspects of the technology are licensed we are licensing our technology to them and so we have a we have a contractual relationship so the module is now 65 of the cost of the total cost of the plant is is uh is in the module itself uh so it's obviously the key variable that we have to look at um so I think we are today we have nine of the tier one module providers in the world are signed up to our um our module licensing agreement so if you're if the if the marketplace is going to be filled with all of these module providers and earthos is uh pushing our technology of putting modules on the ground we have to do some level of qualification of the mo of the module provider right so that's an important piece so a simple statement tier one that that's easy just straight up tier one that's you've gotta you've gotta meet that that criteria to to be even be considered um but we push the module through further uh you know further review aside from that before we are comfortable with that module provider uh you know us signing up that module provider to our contract now we don't control who is the provider of the module on the project the developer does that they they sign the contract with the module provider but the module provider has a contract with us around the intellectual property that's associated with the module so uh so we help to facilitate getting that Marketplace in order and so far we've got like I said nine of the tier ones um under contracts several of the others are they're ready to go they want to see adoption of the technology and you know they want to play uh you know the way we see game because they're the the biggest ones in the industry but um but the reality is is that the adoption of this technology is inevitable because it's the lowest cost form of energy and it's it's no different than the adoption of single axis trackers where it was inevitable because it was the lowest cost form of energy and so it's just a matter of time until all the model providers recognize that and you know ultimately sign up to this technology so early in the interview you said your two main concerns were heat and moisture why is heat a concern in how does that play out for modules that are flat on the ground what are the pros and cons of of uh putting modules flat on the ground yeah so heat was frankly my number one concern because I already was aware of the water side of the equation but it was difficult to understand if you're going to put a solar panel on the ground is it going to get 2 hot for the maximum temperature maximum allowable temperature and I live in the desert Southwest in Phoenix and so I literally built a plant in my backyard to do some initial concept testing to prove it and it turns out uh and the the physics actually makes sense once you've done and proven these tests but if you put a solar panel on a rack up in the air there's a certain rate of heat dissipation that the air will do of the solar panel you take that exact same solar panel and put it on a roof uh on the on the roof of a house and uh let's say it's you know two or three inches off that roof there's a certain heat dissipation that the roof and the air cooling around that module on the roof bring those two extremes those are the the boundaries the roof mounted solar is what actually is the trigger of the maximum allowable temperature for the solar panel which is like 85 degrees C and it turns out that if you put a solar panel on the ground on the dirt it's almost exactly halfway between the temperature you would find on a roof and the temperature you'd find on a rack the variables are 29 22 and 15 as a term of a variable that's in the energy calculation but but nonetheless when you put the solar panel on the ground the temperature the maximum temperatures that it sees are almost exactly halfway between what you would see on a roof versus a rack since we've figured that out it became a moot point because rooftop is everywhere in the world and they don't have any problems you know degradation all those types of issues are uh are managed because they've figured out damp heat you go put a solar panel on a roof in Florida you've got damp heat as hard as any other place in the world right you put a solar panel on the ground and in uh in Phoenix uh dampede is fundamentally it's not an issue uh as it turns out so um so that was the temperature problem but there's turns out there's a bunch more variables that lead to degradation people think uh temperature number one source of of degradation but as they've gotten better and better and better at making solar panels you know dual glass modules bifacial modules improved uh the performance of solar panels pretty dramatically just because they eliminated the back sheet and the back sheet was one of the sources of degradation water Ingress through the back sheet well when you went to Glass glass that stuff mostly went away so uh but there was another variable that glass glass enhanced it's called microcracking microcracking was a big problem it was one of the sources of accelerated degradation go to Glass glass a lot of this microcracking stuff reduced well what's going on well when you sandwich the module between the two points it changes the position where the modular where the Chris the wafer is at the deflection point of the module well microcracking when they started really looking at that it turns out if you are able to reduce microcracking as a natural characteristic of a solar panel uh you can reduce its uh degradation if you put a solar panel up on a rack up in the wind and it's flopping around in the wind all the time you're going to induce microcracking versus if you put it flat on the ground there is no wind there is no effective wind that if influences the solar panels one of the reasons we can go to 194 mile an hour wind zones so the function of microcracking drops dramatically there's one other function that drops differential soiling this is another key variable that earthos effectively eliminates because we clean the panels every day with a with a robot that goes out and sweeps all the dust sweeps off the differential soiling bird poop is a good example for bird poop lands on a on a solar panel there's a hot spot right under the bird poop and that hot spot causes the micro cracks to propagate and causes other problems over time well solar panels are all spread out some of them get bird poop some of them get a little bit of dirt on and other parts and pieces some of them are a little more micro cracked or than others so you'll get differential degradation from one module to the next which causes interest string differential in degradation and further causes degradation to happen in the plant so there's a whole bunch of versions of things that get reduced by setting it flat on the ground you're able to clean it reduce differential soiling there is no wind microcracking goes away and and this is a the last one it's fascinating when you're up on a rack as the temperature goes up and down it goes you know Cloud goes in front of the Sun that temperature change changes quickly a thermal change rise and fall of the solar panel itself happens fairly quickly when it's sitting flat on the ground as it turns out the temperature of the module slowly rise and slowly fall because there's a heat sink that they're connected to and that rate of rise and fall of thermal is actually less damaging to things like microcrack propagation so it's a whole Litany of things these are hard to prove only time really does that and now we have projects that have enough time to show it and it's quite powerful the outcome is quite powerful so I mean we might expect half a percent 0.4 to 0.5 percent degradation in modules per year you know when you look at the output from an array it just slowly ticking down you still have 80 percent uh plus productivity at the end of of 25 years what what is the expectation with earthos and what are you learning from the field so far about degradation so we modeled 0.5 um in all of our plants and we haven't changed that that's still the standard assumption um uh it would be fair and reasonable to model 0.4 uh just based on what we've
seen given another year or two of performance data uh in the field actual life performance data I believe that that number is going to come down to 0.3 ish uh uh uh and but it's really interesting because there's degradation individual module degradation but then there's differential degradation from one module to the next and that mismatch degradation actually has a bigger effect over time and that's where I think our biggest influence comes rather than just the absolute degradation of one module it's the spread of degradation from across 100 modules what's the one with the most to the least the modules in an earthos plant will degrade very close to one another whereas one's on a Tracker will degrade in a larger spread or distribution and I think that has the single biggest effect is the time-based change of differential degradation will prove out to be the biggest benefit from a degradation perspective in solar solar panels with earthos very well well we're almost out of time I I hearken back to my conversations with Matt Campbell who's the CEO of terabase energy one of the things that he points out is we as an industry are chasing penny per kwh solar electricity that unlocks Mass green hydrogen for example when you think about the future of large-scale solar what are some of the things besides interconnection you know that you see as the biggest challenges or opportunities for us as an industry so I'm not I'm a very firm believer that we are not going to Electrify our way out of the problem it's not possible we don't have enough time to Electrify our way out of the problem the U.S grid would have to get two and a half times bigger than it is today if you want to change all the automobiles to Electric and that's just not it's not viable um and so uh uh so we have to solve the problem another way we have to find a replacement for fossil fuel I'm 100 firm believer that hydrogen is that replacement it's the right fuel to replace fossil fuel it's just too expensive that's just the bottom line so the introduction to the IRA was targeted to drive that price down and and that's happening so you're seeing all kinds of projects being announced the cost of the input electricity to split the hydrogen into uh or split the water into hydrogen oxygen is everything it's a huge component variable earthos levelized cost of energy in certain low geographies uh will be somewhere in the vicinity of 25 to 26 dollars a megawatt hour compared to a single axis tracker with a First Solar or crystalline silicon bifacial that'll be 31 32 megawatt hour everything Apples to Apples those are you know lizard variable lce you have to get to below 20. a megawatt hour and there are ways to do that there are ways to get to below 20. if you take
away interconnect that's a significant impact and then you look at some of the other variables that impact the cost of a solar plant financing costs of a solar plant are huge one of the biggest single risks on any solar installation is you've got a single off take you got one contract with one PPA and then what happens when that PPA is done and you want to do a merchant plan what's the projected Merchant value and so on and so forth those risks cause the financing to extend out and that financing cost is a significant variable when you go to hydrogen solar produced or hydrogen produced from solar at the energy hubs as they're describing right they're talking about hydrogen hubs all around this part of the country the off take of those hydrogen hubs there will be multi-dimensional off takes lots of different types of off takers not just one and that construct will help lower the cost of financing for those assets because you'll have many off takers and the competitive product is brown hydrogen or hydrogen from fossil fuel or it's uh you know fossil fuel itself for purposes you know for combustion for transportation or otherwise since that becomes your comp your competitor you're no longer just competing with solar you're competing with that product and as long as you're able to produce a product that's cheaper than that product you'll always have an off take and that again influences the financing and the economics of the project so hydrogen is here it's ramping all the beneficial reasons no interconnect multi-party ppas to reduce risk uh development cycle times can be very very short rather than uh you know four and five years development cycle time you can actually go to uh execution in a year uh you know for from the Land Development perspective we're going to be bound by the supply chain that's going to be the constraint supply chain of electrolyzer supply chain of polysilicon and bringing those into the United States supply chain of electrolyzers and supply chain of polysilicon is absolutely everything for the future of hydrogen in this country and you know we'll talk about it in some future podcasts what are some of the things that earthos is doing on that front but um I'm a firm believer that that's the future of the industry and when you do that when you disconnect us from the grid solar will grow asymptotically for several years it will ramp into the uh you know I think we've got 150 odd gigawatts installed since the Inception of time for for solar doing 23 24 gigs a year we will get up into the 50 60 gigs a year once we get hydrogen uh happening and disconnect from the grid so I love it on that subject though I love it just uh going around the interconnection altogether building a power plant that produces hydrogen from Green electrons well thank you so much uh Jim Tyler CEO of earthos how can our listeners find you oh go to the website earthos.com that's the uh that's the best place certainly to you know we uh we're heavy on LinkedIn um uh uh you know but our general customer base is the developers that's that's who we sell and Market to and uh you know I know there's there's quite a few of them that have been uh been looking at us so uh uh you know but get in touch listening to clean Power Hour uh with you I think is a is a very good uh very good source of them starting to pay attention listen it's good stuff the clean Power Hour is brought to you by Dina Watts if you're a solar PV asset manager or performance engineer you need better data and better business intelligence with Dina Watts digital twin benchmarking technology you get more accurate efficient and faster performance measurement results the fourth generation Dino recently completed a technical review by dnv you can download the report at dinawatch.com that's d-e-n-o-w-a-t-t-s.com now back to the show you can find all of our content at cleanpowerour.com give us a rating and a review on Apple and Spotify subscribe to our YouTube channel and most importantly tell your colleagues about the show that is the greatest way you can help the show and help others find the show I want to thank Jim Tyler for coming on the show today look forward to seeing you in Vegas at already plus this uh episode will drop prior to that so we're going to Vegas September 11 to 14. earthos
will be there the clean Power Hour will be there and you can meet up with us there so with that I will say let's grow solar and storage take care Jim thank you Tim hey listeners this is Tim I want to give a shout out to all of you I do this for you twice a week thank you for being here thank you for giving us your time I really appreciate you and what you're all about uh you are part and parcel of the energy transition whether you're an energy professional today or an aspiring energy professional so thank you I want to let you know that the clean Power Hour has launched a listener survey and it would mean so much to me if you would go to cleanpowerour.com click on the about us link right there on the main navigation that takes you to the about page and you'll see a big graphic listener survey just click on that graphic and it takes just a couple of minutes if you fill out the survey I will send you a lovely baseball cap with our logo on it the other thing I want our listeners to know is that this podcast is made possible by corporate sponsors we have two wonderful sponsors today chin Power Systems the leading three-phase string inverter manufacturer in North America and Dina Watts a performance monitoring platform for utility scale solar so check out CPS America and Dina Watts but we are very actively looking for additional support to make this show work and you see here our Media Kit with all the sponsor benefits and statistics about the show you know we're dropping two episodes a week we have now over 320 000 downloads on YouTube and we're getting about 45 000 downloads per month so this is a great way to bring your brand to our listeners and our listeners are decision makers in clean energy this includes project Executives Engineers Finance project management and many other professionals who are making decisions about and developing designing installing and making possible clean energy projects so check out cleanpowerhour.com both our listener survey on the about us and our Media Kit and become a sponsor today thank you so much let's grow solar and storage the clean Power Hour is brought to you by CPS America the maker of North America's number one three-phase string inverter with over six gigawatts shipped in the US the CPS America product lineup includes three-phase string inverters ranging from 25 to 275 KW their Flagship inverter the CPS 250 275 is designed to work with solar plants ranging from two megawatts to two gigawatts the 250 275 pairs well with CPS America's exceptional data communication controls and energy storage solutions go to chinpowersystems.com to find out more