Aluminum extrusions play a key role in both alternative and conventional energy generation and distribution systems. Traditionally, aluminum's high electrical conductivity (about 62% of that of copper on an equal volume comparison and 2 times that of copper on an equal weight basis) has made extrusion a frequent choice for electrical connectors and for bus bar systems used to distribute power in industrial facilities.
Today, extrusion is earning its place as a key component in solar power - providing cost-effective mounting and racking solutions for concentrated (CSP), photovoltaic (PV), concentrated photovoltaic (CPV), and Buildingiintegrated photovoltaic (BIPV) solar power systems.
CPV solar field (prior to mirror installation)
PV field (prior to PV panel installation)
Aluminum extrusion in PV: Extrusion's light weight and low maintenance make it an excellent choice for PV mounting systems — whether for industrial roofs, residential roofs, or large/utility scale ground-mount systems. In addition, the ability to design in multiple functions - like wirring raceways - and connectors often significantly reduces parts and speeds installation, leading to reduced system costs. A recent study commissioned by the AEC and conducted by IBIS Associates concluded that aluminum extrusion mounting systems were an economical alternative to steel in all PV market segments when the total costs of materials, other components, shipping, and installation were considered. And that was before the reduced maintenance costs and residual recycling value of aluminum extrusions was factored in!
Aluminum extrusion in CSP & CPV: For utility scale CSP and CPV fields, extrusion is the logical choice. Extrusion's high strength yet light weight provides the structure to meet high wind and snow load requirements, yet still permit downsizing of tracking system components, and the functionality that can be designed in reduces parts and speeds assembly. Equally important, extrusion delivers the precision tolerances needed for optimal energy capture. For more information on extrusion's role in the landmark, 64 MW Nevada Solar One project, click here. For a recent IBIS Associates study assessing the cost of aluminum vs. steel mounting systems for CSP, click here.
Aluminum extrusion in wind power: Extrusion is increasingly found in wind power as well. From bus bar to carry the electricity generated by the turbine to inner-tower structural elements, platforms and ladders, extrusions and extrusion-based assemblies play a prominent role.
Images: Hydro, Sapa
Resources for solar applications: For more information about the benefit of extrusion in solar applications, as well as design tips for their effective use, consult the following: