First Solar’s own power generation projects have always been mounted on racks that don’t tilt throughout the day to follow the sun, but the company is exploring the use of trackers. First Solar announced Friday it has bought RayTracker for an undisclosed sum.
By Ucilia Wang, GigaOMFirst Solar’s own solar power generation projects have always been mounted on racks that don’t tilt throughout the day to follow the sun, but the company is exploring the use of trackers. First Solar announced Friday it has bought RayTracker for an undisclosed sum. First Solar already is already testing RayTracker’s technology in the field, said Alan Bernheimer, a First Solar spokesman. The acquisition doesn’t mean First Solar will use trackers for all or most of its projects. But it does expand First Solar’s menu of project engineering services, Bernheimer said. “Tracker technology is one of a number of initiatives under development in our Systems group as part of our broader effort to enable lower LCOE (levelized cost of electricity) pricing capability and further differentiate our solution in the market,” Bernheimer wrote in an email. “We are not announcing any new products at this time. First Solar is still evaluating the effectiveness of tracking and other advanced systems technologies and will announce product offerings through a customer release process when appropriate to do so,” he added. Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar is a long-time manufacturer of thin-film solar panels, and it jumped into the energy project development business in recent years. The move creates outlets for its solar panels, and the strategy has made it one of the largest project developers in North America. First Solar has bought several project developers, including paying $297 million for NextLight Renewable Power last year and $400 million for OptiSolar in 2009. These purchases gave First Solar more than 2 GW of projects under development in North America. The company also is heading to China, and said earlier this week that it has teamed up with a Chinese energy company to develop the first 30 MW of what promises to be a 2 GW project in Inner Mongolia. The benefits of using trackers to point solar panels to the sun have been a source of debate. Proponents say trackers squeeze more power and therefore more money from each installation. Critics say trackers add costs without providing enough returns on investments.