Columbia company follows the sun
With state grant, Advanced Technology & Research makes tracking solar energy units
Most solar companies merely harness the power of the sun, but now a Columbia company plans to track it, too.
Advanced Technology & Research is on the verge of rolling off its production line its Solar Pole Tracker, which incorporates solar panels with GPS technology to follow the sun throughout the day. The rotating panels attach to light poles and produce up to 30 percent more electricity over the course of a day than fixed panels, according to company information.
This technology is supported with the assistance of a $1.1 million Clean Energy Economic Development Initiative grant that the Maryland Energy Administration awarded the company in July. The company has committed to producing 1,200 trackers by March 2012.
The idea came to executives when they were returning from a New York meeting and noticing all the light poles on the side of the road, said Rob Lundahl, vice president.
"Light poles are really attractive, existing structures with wiring inside. Joining them with solar panels made sense. It's easy to attach the panels to the pole," he said.
Privately held Advanced Technology began developing the tracker mounts. The mounts convert solar energy into electricity, a portion of which is used to power themselves, eliminating the need for an additional power source, Lundahl said. They are designed to provide power for more than 20 years.
The company "is proud to introduce this innovative device that will make even greater use of the sun as an energy source and create green jobs right here in Maryland," CEO Jackson Yang said in a statement.
Lundahl said the trackers could have applications on poles at malls, business parks, train stations and park-and-ride lots. The design also allows for advertisements to be attached to the sides of the mount.
"By investing in innovative, renewable energy technologies like these pole-mounted solar trackers, [the Maryland Energy Administration] is working to bring Maryland closer to achieving its goal of generating 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022," Malcolm Woolf, director of the agency, said in a statement.
The state grant is helping Advanced Technology develop reasonably priced versions of the track, Lundahl said. The system costs $595 for the mount alone if companies do their own conversion or $1,495 for the mount and solar converter.
"Our big goal is to be a manufacturer; we're not installers," he said. "At $4 to $5 a watt, we're optimistic the economics are going to help this along."
He said the company also is prepared to help clients find financial incentives for solar use because the company understands it is difficult for people to procure capital for these projects right now.
"Companies all along the supply chain are improving the efficiency of solar for people," said Monique Hanis, spokeswoman for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C. "We know the public really loves solar, and that 94 percent of people feel we should develop and use more. This helps to meet that demand."
Advanced Technology & Research was started 30 years ago by a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. It specializes in electromechanical systems and robotics and entered the renewable energy field a few years ago while seeking new areas to apply its skills, Lundahl said. The company has 100 employees spread over three divisions.
The company also plans to release home versions of the trackers that can be mounted on fence posts, larger versions that attach to wind turbine towers to capture two renewable energy sources at once and solar-powered car-charging stations. It will install its first station in Bethesda this spring, Lundahl said.
"We've been investing. It remains to be seen if the market will support it and whether it remains a successful product," he said.