An iconic image of the traditional solar farm is the sprawl of panels extending beyond sight. Three Sixty Solar Ltd., a Vancouver-headquartered company, is flipping this picture around vertically with its solar tower.
Three Sixty Solar (VSOL-NE) was founded in 2017 by its director Peter Sherba, who has a background in the electrical contracting space. After having installed several solar farms, Sherba came to believe they do not make good use of land, according to CEO Brian Roth, who spoke to SustainableBiz.
Sherba conceived of building a solar farm upward, similar to apartments and vertical farming, “so that land could be used for other economic purpose and other preservation purposes and make sure that we can still generate power without taking up all that space,” Roth said.
After spending three years designing, development and engineering the solar tower concept, Three Sixty Solar announced success from a 16-month test exposing it to extreme weather conditions and its potential for the market.
About the solar towers
The base of the towers vary in size from 20 feet by 20 feet to 45 feet by 45 feet. The heights range from 60 feet to 120 feet.
One tower can deploy as much as 250-kilowatts of rated power with the potential to tie multiple towers together for multi-megawatt installations.
Beside generating clean electricity, the solar towers free up more land use. The company says it can cut land use by 80 to 90 per cent, meaning less space is occupied by the construction of solar farms, which have raised concerns over habitat destruction and impacting biodiversity.
The solar towers can do more than generate power, unlike traditional solar, Roth said. Users can affix telecommunications equipment and use them for battery storage, granting them flexibility.
An additional benefit is the longevity and alternate uses of the towers, which Roth said means they are for “owners who want a long time horizon.”
Though the solar panels have 20-to-30-year lifespan, the structure itself is made from steel that can last 80 to 100 years. A tower owner can strip off the solar panels three or four times over the lifetime of the tower and upgrade the panels to ones that are an improvement in quality and efficiency.
The 16-month trial
To test the solar tower and showcase its potential, Three Sixty Solar engaged in a 16-month trial using a demonstration tower in Kelowna, B.C.
The crucial element to Three Sixty Solar was that the structure itself withstood severe weather without any damage to the structure or to the panels, which is a leading cause of reduced power production in traditional ground mount solar projects.
Since October 2021, the tower endured conditions like being battered by winds at 135-kilometres per hour with accompanying hail and rain, or record high temperatures of 39 C during an extended forest fire season during the summer. It had to “withstand everything that nature had to throw at it,” Roth said.
In the end, there was no power loss from the soiled panels.
The company believes it is a first mover with its solar tower concept. Roth said Three Sixty Solar searched through the market and found it is the first to have created a solar tower embedded with photovoltaic panels.
It is applying for several patents and received preliminary positive reviews from the World Patent Office and from a patent office servicing Africa. Roth said Three Sixty Solar is waiting for responses from North American and European patent offices and is expecting positive reviews as well.
Three Sixty Solar does not yet have any solar towers contracted or fabricated yet, but is closing projects, Roth said.
Roth could not disclose the names of the company’s customers, but could divulge it is actively engaged on proposals and working thorough design details in Alberta and B.C.; the U.S. northeastern seaboard and states such as Nevada, Arizona and California; and is exploring opportunities in the Caribbean and Africa.
The solar developer is working with an Alberta-based fabricator named Foremost Energy Equipment to build the solar tower structures. Foremost has assured Three Sixty Solar it can keep up with demand. The fabricator can build 15 to 20 towers a month, according to Roth, with no difficulty scaling up with growing demand.