Four energy dense solar mounting systems for C&I rooftops

SunModo SunBeam

sunmodo

As a permanent part of the building and roof structure, the SunBeam system eliminates any abrasions, moss build up and need of system removal for roof repair or re-roofing. In addition, it provides shading of HVAC equipment, increasing efficiency and faster temperature response. Twenty-year warranty.

Material: High-grade aluminum and 304 stainless steel hardware. Anchor-only attachment.

How it maximizes energy density: The SunBeam system elevates above obstructions such as HVAC, pipes and vents. By spanning over roof obstructions such as HVAC, pipes and vents, the system takes full advantage of the available roof surface thereby maximizing the PV system size. The system can be easily adjusted to account for the multiple roof pitches on site.

Everest Solar D Dome R²

everest

The D Dome R² system is an east/west commercial flat roof solution. The third generation of this product is now rail-less with only five major components and minimal hardware. It sits at a fixed 10-degree pitch and allows for 3.5-in. inter-row spacing. Twenty-year warranty.

Material: Aluminum, ballast with attachment optional. The ballast blocks sit under the panels.

How it maximizes energy density: Everest Solar Systems believes east/west systems are more efficient south of the tropic of cancer. First, an east/west system practically eliminates inter-row spacing which allows more modules on the roof, thus increasing module density. On one internal study, Everest compared a the production of a 10-degree south-facing system with its east/west system in southern California at different azimuths. The south-facing fit 88 modules and had a 14 percent decrease in at the 225-degree azimuth. The D Dome R² system reached 108 modules in the same space and had less than 0.1 percent change between all azimuth angles.

Solar Mounting Solutions

sms

SMS Racking consists of only three major parts that arrive with all hardware pre-inserted allowing for quick single tool installation. The THRU-ITT integrated wire management system allows wiring to remain organized and protected by running wires east-west and north-south internally. Since this racking design does not rely on the panel for integrity, installers can complete racking and wire installation independent of the panel. Twenty-year warranty.

Material: G90 coated steel and optional galvanized steel, aluminum, powder-coated. Ballast only.

How it maximizes energy density: SMS developed an Excel spreadsheet that determines the optimum row-to-row spacing based on the selected solar module, optimum tilt angle, solar azimuth angle, and the altitude angle all specific to install location. By optimizing the length of row-to-row spacers, the SMS system can greatly reduce the amount of redundant material, which in turn will reduce racking cost and avoid installing the modules in a high shadow region. The racks are designed with minimal distance between modules in the east/west direction to eliminate unused area.

Ecolibrium EcoFoot5D and EcoFoot2+

ecolibrium

EcoFoot5D 5-Degree and EcoFoot2+ 10-Degree speed installation and simplify logistics for flat-roof installs. Main components are: a base, pre-assembled clamps (integrated bonding without washers) and a wind deflector. The system is black, ASA-PC, UL Listed Resin with a 25-year warranty mounted with ballast, attachments or a mix.

How it maximizes energy density: EcoFoot5D 5-Degree delivers 18.4 percent more power than the 10-degree system and lowers cost per watt. The system maximizes roof density while maintaining the ease and simplicity of EcoFoot. The modular base is small at 7 in. x 16.7 in., and inter-row spacing is a dense 9.9 in., creating a tightly packed array. Stackable bases enable up to 290 kW per pallet, resulting in fewer pallets and minimized shipping, storage and onsite crane use.

— Solar Builder magazine

Degrees of Separation: How to mount commercial rooftop PV systems to maximize energy

Ecolibrium EcoFoot system

Ecolibrium EcoFoot system

On commercial rooftops, design trends are all about maximizing energy density. Module selection is a huge factor there, but so are the layout and tilt decisions — figuring out the perfect shape and tilt to mount as many modules as possible without compromising their performance.

Pairing the right racking system with a flat-roof space opens up a world of possible equations. Use a racking system that will position the panels to maximize the energy output, which includes the tilt angle, inter-row spacing and the direction the panels will face. As always, geography matters. For one, the roof’s azimuth, or the direction the pitch faces. For a perfect south-facing system, the azimuth should be 180.

But new systems are tweaking the traditional. East/west systems are becoming popular below the tropic of cancer. Designers are playing more with tilt angles, with the general trend moving toward 5-degree tilt — likely to reduce inter-row shading without compromising the number of modules used or resulting in too much soiling.

“Rooftop energy density is maximized by fitting more panels on the roof using a 5-degree racking system,” said Jonah Coles, product solutions manager, Ecolibrium Solar. “The key to fitting more panels on the roof is to use racking with a small footprint and narrow inter-row spacing. The combination packs in panels, yet the inter-row spacing is wide enough to allow for the working room needed for ease of installation and post-installation maintenance.”

RELATED: Why energy density matters — and three ways to maximize it

But the tilt decision isn’t one-size-fits all. Everest Solar Systems notes tilt angle efficiency correlates to latitude — the higher the latitude often requires a higher tilt. The latitude in Hawaii, for instance, allows a system to be virtually flat, but there needs to be enough tilt to keep the rain from pooling and to keep dust off the modules. Brandon Gwinner, regional sales manager, SunModo, puts that minimum at a 4-degree tilt.

SunModo Sunbeam

“The tilt degree is dependent on the region/location and optimum output based on TSRF,” he says. “The minimal tilt degree racking systems are typically to maximize the number of modules you can get on a roof without your rear post being 8 ft off the roof and to get the most energy density/power density per the project.”

There are also some wind/snow load considerations that can keep tilt below a certain height/tilt degree, as well as parapet walls and billowing of wind. The installer has to find the balance between production and engineering capabilities.

Also, installers looking to maximize production in summer months should consider using lower tilt angles than installers looking to maximize production in winter months. In snowy northern climates, Everest Solar recommends a 10-degree system tilt angle, which is better for shedding snow, plus the wider inter-row spacing allows more room for snow to land without piling up and casting a shadow or covering the modules.

“If you can hit your power goal with a 10-degree system, then 10-degree would be the system of choice. If not, 5-degree racking can enable a successful system when 10-degree wouldn’t fit enough panels to generate enough power,” Coles said.

Commercial installations have significantly more requirements than residential installations, so understanding jurisdictional requirements at the onset of the project will make the process go smoothly. Some states, like Oregon, do not require extra engineering when the tilt is under 18 in. on the back edge of the array, based on a prescriptive path. So, cost analysis vs. ease of permitting is a factor for tilt decisions too.

The inter-row spacing issue

Tilted PV panels cast shadows on the rows of modules behind them, necessitating a gap between rows to minimize the effects of production loss due to shadows cast on panels in anterior module rows. Here are a few ideas to mitigate the impact of this phenomenon on your PV installation via Peter Abou Chacra, engineering consultant, SunModo.

  • Reduce the tilt of your south-facing array. For peak energy production on a per-module basis, PV modules have an ideal incident angle with solar rays emanating from the sun. For some installations, however, it may make sense to reduce the tilt of the modules to a less optimal incident angle. Though this means less production on a per module-basis, it can mean a significant increase in the daily unshaded collection time for the array. This gain in effective collection time can offset the losses caused by a sub-optimal tilt for the module itself. Using software dedicated to modeling and analyzing a system’s performance at a different tilt angle and inter-row spacing should figure out the best path.
  • Locate your system on a south-facing slope. Even a five-degree inclination can have a marked impact on the amount of inter-row spacing required. This can significantly increase the number of modules you can fit in a given area.
  • Consider 3-in-landscape or 4-in-landscape monoslope installations. Coupled with a low tilt, this strategy can reduce inter-row spacing significantly on a given installation since modules on the same structure and slope don’t require significant spacing between them. This can be particularly effective if you can gradually elevate the anterior monoslope PV structures as you work your way north through the site.

— Solar Builder magazine

This is Certifiable: Ecolibrium Solar walks us through the UL 2703 testing process

ecolibrium solar

Look at all of these. Installers often change modules based on availability, so being able to test in-house is a big time savings.

Simplification is one of the key objectives of the solar industry, but the path to get there, ironically, is super detailed. Removing components to simplify a racking system, being compatible (and compliant) with a broad range of suppliers and just generally re-thinking what’s already been established is a deliberate and labor-intensive trial-and-error process.

The Ecolibrium Solar office in Boulder, Colo., is a monument to the relentless process of simplification, and maybe it’s just the immediate proximity of craft breweries and, um, agricultural entrepreneurs, but the Ecolibrium team seems cool with it. On its face, there is nothing remarkable to see here, just a standard office tucked in the back of an office park, (save all of the tables and cornhole boards made of PV), but located in the warehouse is its product development and testing facility that is a certified partner lab of TÜV Rheinland Group. This partnership is a boon for simplification. Ecolibrium is able to test and certify modules for UL 2703 compliance in seven days and make a priority of the modules that need immediate certification. Without in-house testing, a company must wait until a lab can test the module, which can take up to several weeks or more.

“It’s a big deal and enables us to be very responsive to our customers’ needs,” says Chris Berg, engineering manager. “Installers often change modules based on availability. Being able to test quickly means we can certify modules as needed. Our UL 2703 listings enable customers and plan reviewers to see if the module specified is approved with our products.” In just the last six or seven months alone, Ecolibrium added around 109 modules to its UL 2703 certification listings.

This is what I’m talking about: Being a certified lab for TÜV Rheinland and testing UL compliance is so much work. To maintain the partnership, Ecolibrium must submit reports that prove its testing tools are calibrated properly. These calibration certificates require cross checking and validation of every tool used — covering everything from torque wrenches to tape measures. Yes, even the tape measures must be independently measured to assure validity of results. I’m exhausted just writing about it. Let’s turn this into a series of pictures to make it simpler for an editor like me.

load test

Load Test: The Ecolibrium lab tests modules to this minimum and beyond — for 30 minutes each — checking for any amount of deformation or slippage. They do this with hundreds of pounds of sandbags, depending on target loads, taking photos of each component before and after each test.

Temperature Test

Temperature Test: There is a temperature test that sends the module through several hundred cycles of extreme temperature changes to see if drastic humidity, cold and heat and constant expansion and contraction will affect the bonding.

Grounding and Bonding Test

Grounding and Bonding Test: The electrical part of the grounding and bonding test had the promise of sparks and excitement — sending 5,000 amps into the panel and blowing a fuse to test the resistance between the clamp and the frame in the event of a worst case electrical fault — but the test is still mostly a checklist to prove the accuracy of the testing conditions and the safety of the testers. A panel must pass this twice in a row.

Got all that? In addition to UL testing, Ecolibrium employs an in-house machinist to streamline the development of new prototypes for its racking product portfolio. Once a prototype is ready, it is handed to Jonah Coles, product solutions manager, who was an installer for seven years before joining Ecolibrium, to test from the installer point of view. Again, the trial and error R&D process is labor intensive, but keeping it all in house truncates the timeline from idea to implementation.

“From a prototyping standpoint, we can move from idea generation, to prototype, to optimizing the design, to a finished product much faster,” Coles explains. “Since we’re focused on continual innovations that simplify and improve racking, the ability to machine and test in house makes a huge difference.”

The latest creation to emerge from this laboratory is the EcoFoot5D High Density Ballasted solution that decreases tilt from 10 degrees to 5 degrees and cuts inner row spacing in half, boosting power density on a roof by 18.4 percent, which is a big industry trend these days. Other simplifications nearing completion are reducing the skirt SKUs for EcoX Rail-less from four to two, while increasing the number of module frame thicknesses that are compatible.


Solar Builder Buzz: Rail-less installation

For a solar installer, a new system, however simple, is just another thing to learn. The old “don’t fix what ain’t broke” principle. But Jonah Coles, product solutions manager for Ecolibrium, believes once installers overcome the learning curve for rail-less installation, they won’t go back to using railed systems. That was just one point of discussion with Coles and Chris Berg, engineering manager at Ecolibrium, during episode three of our Solar Builder Buzz podcast. Head to www.blubrry.com/solar_builder_buzz to listen and subscribe.

— Solar Builder magazine

SB Buzz Podcast: Discussing rail-less mounting with Ecolibrium Solar

Ecolibrium

We ventured out to Boulder, Colo., to discuss rail-less solar mounting with Chris Berg and Jonah Coles of Ecolibrium Solar. Because it is Colorado, the Ecolibrium office was located like 50 feet from a brewery, Asher Brewing Co., so that seemed like a good place to chat.

Click to listen (and subscribe!) below. Here’s what to look for in the discussion:

First minute: Beer selection.

2-min mark: Ecolibrium has a streamlined process for testing UL 2703 compliance because it is a certified partner lab of TÜV Rheinland Group. Chris explains how having this testing in-house adds to its product development.

4-min: We discuss the acceptance level of rail-less mounting in the market right now, and why, in Jonah’s view, it will only gain more ground as more installers get trained on these systems.

“Installers might not like it in the first week; they will come around in week two, and by the end of the month they won’t want to go back,” Jonah says. Then explains what hurdles need to be overcome in that first month and what advantages that can be gained, both on site and by doing more jobs overall.

10-min: Jonah dives into what he sees as myths about rail-less racking. One of them being that rail-less is only good if you have a perfect rectangle.

“I feel it’s the exact opposite. I installed rail for years before I came to Ecolibrium and was introduced here to rail-les, and if I have a couple of offset rows of panels [with rail] I have to square up that rail every time I have a new offset panel. But the panel is square, so if you don’t have a rail and you’re dropping a panel in, as long as you’ve placed your mounts where the panel is going to cover … there isn’t any squaring to do.”

14-min: We discuss the challenges and new considerations that exist with rail-less mounting. Plus, what should you look for when procuring a rail-less system?

18:50: We decided whether to stop the podcast and eat lunch or keep going.

19:01: We keep going.

19:08: What more can we expect to see in terms of rooftop solar product development, both residential and commercial – and how these developments can continue to grow the solar contractor market.

27-min: Examples they’ve seen (or things they would like to see) to keep removing soft costs from the installation process.

— Solar Builder magazine

Ecolibrium Solar now a preferred supplier for Amicus Solar Cooperative

Ecolibrium

Ecolibrium Solar just signed an agreement with Amicus Solar Cooperative as a preferred solar racking vendor for its member companies. Ecolibrium Solar was selected based on its successful relationships with Amicus members who use and prefer EcoFoot modular racking and for its strength as a company. Other factors include Ecolibrium Solar’s reputation for simple racking solutions for flat and pitched roofs, streamlined logistics that reduce cost, 25-year warranty, and expert, dedicated customer support from project start to finish.

Founded in 2011, Amicus Solar Cooperative is the first purchasing cooperative in the U.S. solar industry, and currently consists of 43 member-companies that are independent solar PV developers, EPC’s, integrators, and installation companies. Each member company operates under its own brand name in over 60 office locations in 29 states. Amicus Solar Cooperative is 100 percent owned by member companies.

SB Buzz Podcast: SunLink VP on tech, data, diversity and the path forward for solar

“Amicus Solar Cooperative is pleased to add Ecolibrium Solar to our group of preferred vendor partners,” says Stephen Irvin, Amicus president. “We’re confident that Ecolibrium’s quality products and dedication to customer service will serve our members and their customers well. We look forward to many years of a productive and mutually-beneficial partnership.”

Under the agreement, Ecolibrium provides Amicus members with its EcoFoot modular technology with its simple, roof-friendly ballasted system. EcoFoot is available in 10- and 5-Degree systems. The new EcoFoot5D High Density 5-Degree Racking was introduced this summer to complement the well-known 10-Degree solution EcoFoot2+. EcoFoot2+ holds an installer-hour rating of 13.5 modules, according to GNV ranking.

For pitched roofs, Ecolibrium provides its EcoX Rail-less Racking, which is the No. 1 universal racking sold in the fast-growing rail-less market, according to market analysis by GTM Research. GTM predicts rail-less will see 64 percent growth from 2016-2022. A new Tile Hook and Metal Clamp solution were introduced in September.

EcoX Rail-less is known for its ability to speed and simplify installation by eliminating rails. It is noted for delivering the beautiful aesthetic that homeowners love.

“Product innovation is the reason Ecolibrium Solar is in business, so you can expect to see additional product improvements soon. Taking cost out by simplifying racking is our ongoing goal, as well as providing superior products and customer support,” says Veague.

— Solar Builder magazine