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Solar tracker manufacturer launches production line at SDI's Texas steel mill

Highlights

Nextracker partners with JM Steel to co-locate on SDI campus

Company targeting low-emissions steel to make trackers

Sees growing potential to power EAF steel mills with solar

  • Author
  • Justine Coyne
  • Editor
  • James Bambino
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power Energy Transition Metals Shipping
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  • United States

Solar tracker manufacturer Nextracker has commissioned a new production line with JM Steel on the campus of Steel Dynamic's newest steel mill in Texas as the company is putting a growing focus on sourcing low-carbon steel in the US and its own potential to help supply clean energy to the steel industry, Nextracker CEO Dan Shugar said in an interview with S&P Global Commodity Insights.

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Setting up production on the SDI Sinton campus is part of an effort the company is undertaking to locate additional solar tracker manufacturing closer to the point of steel production as a typical system contains thousands of tons of steel, Shugar said. Solar panels are installed on the company's trackers, which move to follow the sun in the sky throughout the day, increasing the amount of energy produced by the system.

The new line at JM Steel Sinton was commissioned April 20 and will serve growing solar demand in Texas and across the South. JM Steel, a division on JENMAR USA, opened its facility on the SDI campus in October 2021.

Co-locating on the SDI mill site will minimize the amount of pollution associated with the transportation of raw materials and allow Nextracker to deliver its products to customers more quickly, Shugar said.

In a statement announcing the new line, Nextracker cited a recent report by IHS Markit (now part of S&P Global Commodity Insights) which found that "steel procurement and manufacturing location will be a key concern for tracker suppliers as they contend with growing local content requirements among global markets and volatile shipping freight costs."

Additionally, where possible, the company is prioritizing steel production with high environmental attributes. SDI's flat-rolled Sinton mill is electric-arc furnace production, which uses recycled ferrous scrap as its primary input.

"It's a double win because the steel is cleaner and you're also not transporting the steel and these heavy products a great distance," Shugar said.

While it has been too early to monetize the cleaner aspects of its production, using less carbon-intensive steel as an input is an internal focus for Nextracker and a "story that customers like" as a clean energy company, he said.

Additionally, Shugar said Nextracker sees growing potential for its products to power EAF production in the US and abroad as steelmakers look to lower their emissions profiles.

Lightsource bp's Bighorn Solar project in Pueblo, Colorado, which entered commercial operation in December 2021, uses Nextracker's products and will supply power to Evraz North America's rail mill currently under construction. This will be the first steel mill in the US to be powered by solar.

"We're able to essentially better serve our customers with less volatility on cost items like steel and logistics, have more of a reliable schedule, and then we're able to have a cleaner product that also minimizes impacts...[while] stimulating electric demand, instead of fossil demand, that we can serve," Shugar said.

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