Principal Solar Institute

A community for solar development professionals.

Solar-Specific Geotech and Foundation Design

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 11:00am – 12:00pm EST  
Host: Principal Solar Institute
By: Bob Donaldson, Vice President, AquaSoli, LLC and Jürgen Schmid, CEO, AquaSoli

Bob Donaldson, Vice President and project manager of U.S. operations for AquaSoli, LLC, will discuss how solar specific geotechnical engineering reduces cost and risk, and adds value to groundmount PV.

Mr. Donaldson will be joined by:

Jürgen Schmid, CEO and founder of AquaSoli, LLC, with photos and discussion on lessons learned from forensic solar foundation failure investigation and remediation.

Most utility-scale solar power project discussions focus on PV modules, inverters/monitoring, PPAs, interconnection and land leases.

But what about the ground below? Solar foundations support as much as 50% of a facility’s installed cost. Foundation failure costs can approach facility value. Solar geotechnical specialists design foundations to meet unique solar performance demands for decades and provide project enhancing design input.

Topics for this webinar will include:

  • Vetting sites based on solar-specific geotechnical issues that impact production capacity, project cost and long-term performance risk
  • Executing a solar-specific geotechnical investigation in the project-planning stage as the basis of more cost effective design
  • Combining site assessment, foundation load testing and foundation design into a single reliable and accountable deliverable
  • Reducing foundation failure risk, installer bids, change order claims and schedule delays with solar-specific site assessment and foundation design based on dense, high accuracy analytical load testing
  • Leveraging the site-specific experience of the solar-specialized geotech into project enhancing input on array layout, rack selection, site prep and civil design, bid packages, and foundation installation quality assurance/quality control
  • Evaluating the latent risk of foundation failure in existing facilities and shovel ready projects with solar-specific geotechnical design review and/or forensic site assessment

Attendees will learn to: 

  • Recognize the advantages of solar specific geotechnical engineering as an alternative to more generic geotech
  • Leverage solar-specific geotechnical engineering at the project planning stage to enhance design, execution and value
  • Apply solar-specific geotechnical design review to assess the cost and risk of foundation failure for existing, design phase and shovel ready projects


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Bob Donaldson

Vice President, AquaSoli, LLC

Bob Donaldson is Vice President and project manager of U.S. operations for AquaSoli, LLC. Since 2003 AquaSoli has completed 10GW of solar-specific geotechnical foundation design, risk assessment and foundation failure remediation. In the past two years, Donaldson worked on over half a Gigawatt of solar site assessment, risk evaluation and design reports for projects up to 90MW.

Previously, as senior applications engineer for PanelClaw, a major solar racking company, Donaldson contributed to design and developed the foundation strategies for a new ground mount system. He successfully repurposed the company’s ballasted product and marketed it for landfill and brownfield applications. In addition, he innovated deployment and layout strategies for both roof and ground mount products, and improved project capture by applying remote site assessment and terrain analysis to bid package layouts and estimates.

As a former associate for Savin Engineers, PC and a hydrogeologist and engineer for Malcolm Pirnie, Donaldson has 11 years of experience completing site assessments, remedial design and construction, and gas-to-energy projects on landfills, brownfields and hazardous waste sites.

Donaldson was a presenter at PV America 2014. His topic addressed the advantages of integrating solar specific geotech and foundation design into project planning, rack selection, civil design, quality assurance/quality control and operations and maintenance. This strategy of geotechnical ground component integration is a major opportunity to proactively drive risk and cost out of ground mount solar while increasing performance and protecting long term investment. For existing projects, geotechnical risk assessment and mitigation is critical to investors, financers and insurance providers because 60 percent of a project’s value is at risk from potential foundation failures.

Donaldson earned a B.A. in Geology from Dartmouth College and a B.E. in Engineering from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.

Jürgen Schmid
Jürgen Schmid

CEO, AquaSoli

Jürgen A. Schmid is the founder and CEO of AquaSoli, LLC. As a highly experienced professional geotechnical and civil engineer, Juergen has completed geotechnical engineering for approximately one billion dollars of installed solar in the US and Canada alone.

Headquartered in Germany, with offices in Boston, San Francisco, Amman and Tokyo, AquaSoli has worked on almost 10% of the world’s total installed ground mount solar capacity since 2003. AquaSoli’s solar-specific geotechnical engineering, foundation design, risk assessment and failure remediation supports 10 gigawatts, $12.5 billion of solar investment worldwide.

Along with managing projects worldwide, Jürgen is developing enhanced European standards for load test based solar foundation design and acceptance testing. In the UK Juergen is personally providing the geotechnical engineering and conducting site assessments to help developers meet the March 2015 deadline for ROCK-feed in tariffs. For 2014 Jürgen made a special commitment to bringing solar to the MENA-region and Subsahara Africa.

Jürgen holds a Degree in Civil Engineering (Technical University Munich) and a Professorship at the Flying Faculty of the German Jordanian University in Amman.
In addition he held a five-year-term Associate Professorship in Ground Engineering and Soil Mechanics at the University of the Federal Armed Forces, Munich.

Jürgen provided expert geotechnical consultation for flood protection of highways, bridges, hospital infrastructure and transportation systems for the City and region of Rosenheim Germany. As manager of the Bay Forrest task force, a cooperative of Bavarian research institutions, Jürgen championed municipal water supply protection in conjunction with landfill closure and beneficial solar reuse. As a cost control consultant and project manager Jürgen provided geotechnical engineering for structures, tunnels, highways, bridges, rail and municipal infrastructure.

Jürgen regularly presents at trade shows, recently offering a paper on landfill solar at SPI. He has published numerous papers on landfill closure design, foundation design for renewable energy plants and drafted articles for the establishment of European standards for landfill solar deployment and solar foundation design.


  • Principal Solar, Inc.

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