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The demand for renewable energy in the United States has steadily increased for the past decade. In 2020, renewable energy like wind and solar accounted for 12% of total U.S. energy consumption. I’m sure we can all agree on one thing at least: renewable energy is here to stay, and demand will only increase.
Despite the demand, renewable energy has caveats. Wind and solar can generate power, but we still need supporting infrastructure. No one plops a wind turbine on a hill or a puts solar panel in a field and calls it done.
Here’s some of the supporting infrastructure renewable energy requires:● Solar panel foundations● Wind turbine foundations● Transmission lines● Collector substations● Equipment for command and control (sensors, transmitters, computers)● Battery Energy Storage Systems, for capturing generated power● Microgrids● And on the list goes…
All that infrastructure needs to be put on something. Traditionally, the most common solutions have been h-pile beams and concrete piers. While these foundations have served our needs, they’re far from an ideal solution. They come with limitations, frustrations, and (sometimes) a lot of headaches.
That’s why more companies are putting their renewable projects on an entirely different foundation technology: helical piers.
Often faster to install, more economical, and more eco-friendly than h-pile or concrete piers, the humble helical pier is taking the renewable world by storm. Because of it's rapid uptake, however, you might feel a little left-in-the-dark when it comes to what a helical foundation is or why you'd want to use it.
In this article, you'll learn about the nearly 200 year-old foundation technology that's ready to put your renewable project on a stronger, safer, faster footing.
Helical piers aren’t a new or strange foundation technology. In fact, they’ve existed for almost two centuries and have supported everything from lighthouses to massive solar farms.
Helical piers work on a brilliantly simple and effective concept. Instead of excavating and pouring concrete or violently pounding a steel h-pile into the ground, helical piers rotate smoothly and quietly down into the soil.
A helical pier may not look like something that can support over 500,000lbs of axial load, but it certainly can (and beyond).
The narrow shaft of a helical pier distributes the load from the structure above ground to the helix plates below ground. These helix plates anchor in firm layers of soil, and the resistance of the soil on the helix plates gives the helical pier high compressive and tension capacities.
Helical piers may look simple, but there’s almost two centuries of research and engineering that supports their use for commercial and industrial projects
Because of the unique design a helical pier can be installed faster and easier while offering often better support than h-piles or concrete.
With a helical pier, there’s no displacement to the soil. No extensive excavations or spoils to haul away. No waiting for concrete to cure. No endless truck loads of heavy pile-driving or concrete-pouring equipment.
What you do get with a helical pier is:● Faster, hassle-free installation● Outstanding resistance to foundation failure from expansive soils● Excellent protection against frost-heave in cold climates● Extremely long-life and high performance● Can be customized to support (practically) any renewable energy project● Can be installed in almost any weather● Ready to load immediately after install – no curing time● Engineered to match exact soil conditions● More environmentally-friendly than concrete, suitable for sensitive sites
Due to their high axial and tension capacity, faster installation, and economy, more renewable energy companies in Texas and across the U.S. are using helical pier foundations for their projects.
Helical piers are a highly adaptable and versatile foundation. You’ll find them supporting a shocking range of projects in some of the toughest environments imaginable.
Helical piers can even be installed in the middle of winter and in frozen ground, no concrete means no worries about improper curing in the foundation
Every sector of commercial and industrial construction has found helical piers to be a reliable, strong, and affordable foundation solution. Renewable energy construction has been using helical piers because they're faster, more versatile, and more economical, compared to other solutions.
Here’s some of the applications for helical pier foundations in the renewable energy sector:
● Battery Energy Storage System installations● Solar farm● Wind farms● Transmission lines● Equipment pads● Substations● Biofuel refineries● Pipelines
Even though helical pier foundations are gaining in popularity for renewable energy projects, you might wonder why you’d want to use them instead of steel h-piles or concrete.
That’s a good question.
More commercial and industrial projects than ever across the United States choosing helical pier foundations, and it’s not by accident
Helical piers aren’t a “miracle foundation“. They have limitations and there may be projects where h-piles or concrete make more sense for your foundation.
For the many projects where helical piers do provide outstanding support, here’s how they measure-up against the competition…
Let’s compare helical pier foundations and h-beam foundations for battery energy storage systems in the United States.
Hammering piers into the ground for installation causes site disturbance and risks building damage via soil vibration.
Must be excavated for uninstallation, leading to costly site remediation.
Demands bulky equipment like pile drivers and cranes to install, which can increase mobilization costs and overall foundation price.
Can increase overall emissions of your project due to requiring more equipment and personnel to be transported and work on site.
No disturbance to the soil or surrounding buildings during install due to lack of vibration.
Can be quickly and easily uninstalled from the ground, leaving no trace.
Requires minimal amounts of common equipment like excavators and skidsteers to install, reducing mobilization costs.
Produces fewer emissions because it uses less equipment and personnel required to transport and install helical piers.
How do concrete foundations and helical pier foundations compare for battery energy storage systems in the United States?
Requires heavy raw materials and equipment to haul and install
Can take days or weeks to fully cure and be ready for loading
Pre-cast concrete piers are brittle and awkward to transport
Environmentally costly material with a high carbon footprint
Removing piers will require excavation, site disturbance, and mess
Lighter and easier to transport and install than poured or pre-cast concrete
Ready for loading immediately after installation
Manufactured from steel and resistant to damage
Lower environmental footprint due to more efficient design and materials
Can be reversed out of the ground with zero disturbance
There will never be “one perfect foundation” for every project.
There’s too many variables in construction to say that helical piers are going to be your best choice, every time, bar none. H-piles and concrete foundations will continue to have their uses for renewable energy projects.
What I hope you’re walking away with is the knowledge that there’s a faster, stronger, better foundation solution for your next energy project. And it might not be h-piles or concrete.
If renewable energy promises us a better future, doesn’t it make sense to build it on a better foundation?
If you're planning a renewable energy project, scroll down and get in touch with our foundation experts at S&B Helical and find the right foundation.
Questions or comments about what you just read?
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