Dynamic Duo: Optimizing the performance of spray polyurethane foam and photovoltaic systems

Rodney Strong Vineyards

Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) and PV systems are increasingly paired together as a joint solution for energy savings. With the continued push toward sustainability and growing movements such as zero net energy (ZNE) construction, SPF and PV systems combine to provide a logical solution to generate renewable energy while conserving the energy used in heating and cooling.

Regardless of whether ZNE is the end goal, SPF and PV combined on the roof can be highly beneficial, but proper installation is key. Here are some technical considerations to ensure optimization of these energy solutions.

Rooftop PV Installation types for use with SPF

Rooftop PV systems may be installed on racks or adhered directly to the roof surface through typical means with either ballast or penetrating supports. Each option offers advantages and disadvantages. For example, ballasted racks may block water flow and affect drainage, while penetrations require proper flashings. But, uniquely, SPF easily self-flashes around penetrating supports.

SPF and coating selection

Higher density SPF systems are often preferred with PV because their compressive strength increases as density increases. SPF systems will be stressed during PV installation, however coatings and granules protect them during installation and maintenance. A roof surface below PV panels may dry slower than non-covered portions. Select coatings that withstand standing water and biological growth.Installation and regular maintenance of PV systems can increase foot traffic. Protect trafficked areas with additional coating and granules or walk pads.

Electrical safety

Electricity is produced when a single panel is exposed to light. Workers may inadvertently complete the circuit by connecting the two wires from the backside of a PV panel. Working around PV panels requires some degree of caution.

When maintaining a PV system, disconnection or removal of individual panels from a string or array may eventually be required. Follow proper shutdown procedures provided by the inverter manufacturer as part of a lock-out/tag-out program. SPF contractors should never disconnect or decommission a PV panel or system unless trained for it.

Heat buildup and SPF lifespan

Photovoltaic panels convert approximately 15 to 20 percent of light to electricity and release unconverted energy as heat. The majority of rooftop installations thus encourage airflow under panels to reduce their temperature, improving conversion efficiency and releasing heat effectively. Panels installed 4 to 5 in. above the roof will adequately cool the PV panels, providing surface shade and drying, potentially extending the SPF system lifespan.

Structural load

PV panels add load to a rooftop. A structural engineer should analyze existing structures to determine if their weight and additional wind load is acceptable. Rack-mounted arrays with penetrating attachments are fairly lightweight at 2 to 3 lbs per sq ft, and ballasted arrays add 4 to 6 lbs per sq ft. With the latter, more ballast is utilized at perimeters and corners of a PV array. Thus, localized loading from ballast may reach 12 to 17 lbs per sq ft. Most SPF roofing systems have a compressive strength of 40 to 60 psi.

Additionally, roofs are required by building codes to provide live load capacity that include people, snow and temporary weight-bearing scenarios. Although the weight of PV systems is not significant, live load capacity will decrease by the addition of the PV system.

Other design considerations include increased wind loading and the potential to catch drifting snow, which may add loading to the roof structure.

Equivalent service life

Expected service life of the roof and PV systems must be considered. The labor cost to remove and reinstall a PV system is costly. When installing PV, residual service life and replacement cost of the existing roof should be evaluated. For older roofs, it may be worth replacing the roof system just prior to PV installation. In other cases, when new or replacement roof systems are installed, provisions for future PV systems may be considered (e.g. pre-installation of penetrating supports).


PV arrays often have many contact points with a roof which may block or slow drainage. Position PV racking to minimize ponding water and/or include notched pads under contact points of ballasted systems to allow water to move toward drains and scuppers, especially for ballasted systems.

PV system access for maintenance and removal

Roof mounted PV systems should be inspected and maintained at least twice a year. Inspect wiring, attachment points and flashings. Cleaning the top surface of PV panels may be required. Workers need access to both the roof and PV systems. PV systems should not block access to drains, penetrations, flashings, mechanical units or rooftop equipment. PV should be installed so workers can access wiring, inspect panel-to-racking connections and clean top surfaces without stepping on panels.

Power Spray

Rodney Strong Vineyards combines spray foam roofing with solar power

Rodney Strong Vineyards

A major force in wine, Rodney Strong Vineyards’ Healdsburg, Calif., facility includes a barrel storage facility housing 28,000 oak wine barrels for their two-year aging process. The barrels must be stored at a consistent temperature and humidity. These factors, married with the large size of the facility, made it a prime contender for the combination of energy efficient spray foam on the roof (which acts as a thermal, moisture and vapor barrier) and solar power.

“In 2003, when we first installed solar, Rodney Strong Wine Estates became one of the greenest wineries in the world,” says Larry Solomon, facilities manager of Rodney Strong. “In 2018, we replaced and increased our rooftop photovoltaic system and recognized this was an ideal opportunity to insulate our barrel storage warehouses with sprayed polyurethane foam roofing. We expect that the insulated roof will provide substantial energy savings, providing a more consistent temperature for barrel storage while eliminating leaks and essentially providing a new roof that will last for the lifetime of the solar array.”

Central Coating Company installed the new 2-in. spray foam roofing system over the existing metal roof to provide R-13 of continuous insulation. The solar contractor, SolarCraft, installed 5,005 solar standoff penetrations for the 1.5-MW photovoltaic system. In February, Central Coating Company won an Industry Excellence Award for the project. Presented by the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance, the award recognizes the Rodney Strong Vineyards combined roof solution as one of the year’s best-in-class applications of spray polyurethane foam.

Rick Duncan is the technical director of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA), the industry’s leading organization representing contractors, material and equipment manufacturers, distributors and industry consultants.

— Solar Builder magazine

The perfect couple: How RBI Solar’s new solar tracker relies on custom jaw couplings to conquer tough environments

TB Wood’s L-Jaw couplings

Reliable TB Wood’s L-Jaw couplings connect the drive motor to the driveshaft at the end of each row of PV modules.

Solar tracking system popularity has expanded as costs have come down and as more customers recognize the advantages compared to fixed-tilt systems for certain applications. RBI Solar is the latest well-recognized solar mounting system manufacturer for commercial and utility-scale projects to heed this market demand by debuting its Sunflower Single Axis Tracker.

“We provide single-source responsibility and peace of mind for EPC customers and project developers throughout the United States,” says Eric Oetjen P.E. at RBI Solar. “Developing this solar tracking system was a natural way for us to expand our product portfolio while providing a solution to an industry need.”

Designed to rotate PV modules on the East/West axis to maximize their energy production, the new system is aptly named since young sunflowers turn to face the sun as they track it across the sky.

RBI Solar’s Sunflower Single Axis Tracke

RBI Solar’s Sunflower Single Axis Tracker is designed to rotate PV modules on the East/West axis.

Alternative architecture

Most trackers in the marketplace rely on large motors and heavy steel members to rotate full rows of PV modules at a time. In large-scale installations, rows can be up to 400 ft long, containing as many as 120, 72-cell PV modules. The reason they need heavier steel vertical posts is because, as the large number of modules rotate, they create bending/torque stress. This stress is transferred and increases along the row from post to post.

To accommodate this stress, competitor systems often utilize increasingly larger post sizes as the posts get closer to the drive motor. For example, posts at one end of the row near the drive motor may be 6×9, while posts at the far end of the row may be 6×20.

The engineering team at RBI has developed a tabled (sectioned) system design that utilizes gearboxes. A gearbox is positioned at each post to transmit rotational torque into each foundation post instead of the motor shaft. This prevents accumulation of stresses to the motor. The result is a more load-balanced system that can drive long rows in a more cost-effective manner.

“These gearboxes provide two main advantages,” Oetjen says. “The design is non-back-drivable, so rotational stresses are absorbed at each post and not transmitted back to the motor. This allows us to use the same small post size throughout our entire system. This reduces cost and installation time.

“Secondly, because each row is made up of approximately 35-ft sections, large arrays can be installed over uneven terrain,” Oetjen continues. “Our Sunflower system allows each section of approximately 12 modules to be adjusted at each connection point to accommodate various topographic conditions. This is a major difference compared to systems that require relatively flat surfaces, since their module rows are made up of one continuous, rigid approximately 300-ft section.”

Small component with a big role

The Sunflower system, designed for commercial/utility-grade applications, required a reliable coupling solution to connect the drive motor to the drivetrain at the end of each row of PV modules. The RBI engineering team evaluated options and determined that an L-Jaw coupling was the most economical choice that met the system requirements.

During the tracking system development process, RBI began searching for a coupling source that not only offered the right coupling type and quality level but also convenient face-to-face support.

“Ultimately, we decided to work with TB Wood’s,” Oetjen says. “They were very cost-competitive. Plus, taking into account their high-quality product standards, superior customer service and convenient location, they were the ideal partner. The team at TB Wood’s was willing to work with us to customize the bore geometry of their L-Jaw coupling to provide a better connection to our driveshaft design.”

L-Jaw couplings are an excellent solution to connect two shafts and accommodate misalignment when ease of installation and low-cost are the primary considerations.

“These couplings operate with an elastomer element in compression, and they offer a fail safe’design, to a degree,” says John Smihal, product manager at TB Wood’s.

To meet the solar array application specifications and torque requirements, the modified LO95 L-Jaw couplings supplied use a Hytrel “spider” element with a torque capacity of 401 in.-lbs The couplings feature standard sintered steel hubs that are made in the U.S. If the elastomer legs of the spider fail, the coupling can still transmit torque through the hubs.

“We worked closely with RBI to revise our standard L-Jaw coupling bore design to accommodate their unique shaft geometry and provide a more secure hub-to-shaft connection,” Smihal says. “The TBW L-Jaw couplings provided the most flexibility, durability and consistent quality for our solar track system,” said Oetjen. “However, the overall interactions we had with TBW outweighed all other considerations. We were able to rely, with confidence, on their experienced and knowledgeable team as they provided engineering expertise and exceptional service and support, including fast responses, problem-solving skills and timely delivery.”

Several large Sunflower system installations have been completed and the TB Wood’s couplings continue to provide reliable, trouble-free performance.

— Solar Builder magazine

Residential Solar Mounting Solutions Guide 2019: Situations and Solutions

solar mounting illustration

Solar installers face jobsite annoyances every day. Awkward roof space. Plastic baggies of tiny components. Missed rafters. And so on. Death by a thousand racking cuts. Luckily, for all of these situations, there is a mounting solution out there to make your life easier.

Micro but Mighty

It’s not the size of the flashing that counts, but the system that comes with it

QuickBOLT Mounting Kits

QuickBOLT is a cool new name and logo, with a newly registered trademark for its solar mounting product innovation, but don’t be fooled: all of it is tied to a company and system you already know with decades of roofing and solar experience. Yes, formerly known as SolarRoofHook, QuickBOLT is the solar wing of Quickscrews International Corp., and its one of a kind Microflashing system is a component of its QuickBOLT and Low Profile QuickBOLT Mounting Kits.

The QuickBOLT is the world’s first and only UL Certified Microflashing mounting system, which seals roof penetrations and can be installed without lifting shingles or removing nails and staples. The QuickBOLT with Microflashing has been installed over 600,000 times with zero leaks.

With its new branding and new trademark in hand, we thought it was time we reintroduce you to the company’s strategy and how its system works.



Holes must be made in the roof for a solar installer to mount an array. Those holes must be sealed in some manner, otherwise the roof will leak. An installer who doesn’t use flashing methods greatly increases their risk of a leaky roof. Plus, International Building Codes require flashing to be used on residential rooftop solar. Flashing is typically sold as part of the mounting system. Mounting manufacturers design flashing products that, first and foremost, prevent leaks. Factors like ease of use or install speed more often come second.

QuickBOLT’s goal from the outset was to improve upon the various flashing methods out there with a flashing product design that would prevent water from entering the penetration while reducing the installer’s time up on the roof.

Key Considerations

In the late 2000s, minor innovations in flashing technology took place as mounting manufacturers began shifting away from “standoff” type mounts and toward mounts that integrated traditional flashing into the design. Both rubber bushed flashing and elevated flashing were became designs which added an extra layer of security to protect against water entering the penetration.

“30 years ago, Installers were mounting L-Feet directly to the roof with sealant alone,” says Jared Wiener, executive vice president at QuickBOLT. “In efforts to reduce leaks, the solar industry adopted flashing products that were more effective at redirecting water away from the hole—but often at the expense of voiding the roof warranty.”

Most of the flashing products used in the past included 12 in. x 12 in. pieces of metal to cover a hole that is typically only 5/16-in. in diameter. Installers ended up cutting the material to fit according to their array or simply to remove excess metal. Industry “best practices” were to lift up the shingles and place the flashing product underneath the 3rd course or layer.

The idea was that even though material and labor costs increased, these flashing products would prevent water from entering a penetration. But leaks still happened. Solar installers were unknowingly voiding roof warranties to install solar, becoming responsible for repairing leaks they could have prevented.

“We spoke with installers and roofers around the U.S. and learned that if we could eliminate the need to lift shingles, then solar installers could save a minimum of 30% of the time it takes for a typical solar install job,” Wiener said. “By providing installers with Microflashing, we were able to find the sweet spot between the simple L-Foot 30 years ago and the expensive flashing products of the 2000s.”

Solution: Microflashing

The patented QuickBOLT Mounting System debuted in 2010 for asphalt shingle roofs, which includes what is now properly known as Microflashing. The design of the system addressed the problems installers were facing: voiding the roof warranty by lifting shingles, speed of install, and reducing costs.

The QuickBOLT Kit consists of just three components: a custom hangar bolt, Microflashing, and a flange nut. When installers drive the bolt down, the collar compresses the Microflashing onto the roof, closing the penetration and creating a watertight seal. Any racking system can then be mounted by connecting a any type of bolt to the L-Foot. Installers have fewer components to carry onto the roof and can install the system in less than 60 seconds. The Microflashing is large enough to cover any other holes that might be made from missing the rafters, but unlike traditional flashing methods, installers no longer have to pay for extra, unused material.

What separates Microflashing from previous flashing methods is its placement. Before, installers would lift up the shingles and slide in the flashing underneath. Not only is this time consuming, but it potentially voids the roof warranty and increases the installer’s risk. Instead, Microflashing is designed to be placed directly over the shingle. Water is redirected around the washer just like other flashing methods — but it is significantly easier for installers to use and completely closes the penetration.

This innovation in flashing methods has given installers a new way to install more solar and increase profits.

Notes: QuickBOLT Patent #8448407. Microflashing is a registered trademark. © Copyright 2019. All Rights reserved Quickscrews International Corporation.


Transporting, cutting and maneuvering the mounting rails will be cumbersome.

plp power disk

Key consideration: Where and how to place solar mounting rails on residential rooftops.

Solution: The POWER DISK from Preformed Line Products (PLP) is a solar mounting system that can be placed anywhere on residential rooftops and does not need to be secured to rafters. Featuring a rail-less design, easy height adjustment and integrated grounding, the POWER DISK is a simple yet cost-effective solution for residential solar applications. What sets this mounting system apart is the roof deck mounting feature which allows for an easier array layout and faster PV module placement. The roof grip fasteners, sealing washers and pre-applied butyl mwastic are all included to provide a secure and reliable roof attachment. The benefits of POWER DISK:

  • Flexible. Modules can be set in portrait or landscape format
  • Adaptable. Attach anywhere on the roof
  • Compatible. Fits most framed 60- and 72-cell modules
  • Quick installation. Comes pre-assembled
  • Built-in electrical grounding. Grounding clips are integrated in the mount


Steep roof and a large system, a solar array highly visible from home’s primary gathering place.

Ecolibrium EcoX Universal Railess Racking system

Key considerations

  • Maximum fit on roof, same part count in landscape or portrait
  • Low part count for easy and safe installation
  • Exceptional aesthetics from any angle

Solution: Use a safe, fast rail-less solution that eliminates handling 20-ft rails on a steep roof and enables no-reach, module drop-in. Ecolibrium’s EcoX Universal Rail-Less Racking eliminates the need for 20-ft rails and the cost, risks and unsightliness of rails. The EcoX reduces attachments needed by 33 percent and uses 65 percent less aluminum to secure the array. Its no-reach-over panel drop-in design is a key feature, particularly on steep roofs. Components are universal to fit any module frame size, which allows installation to continue even if the module is changed. The design is flexible, resulting in a portrait orientation that fits the roof beautifully. A low-profile, finished look provides exceptional aesthetics for the highly visible location. Cost-per-watt is low.


Solar roof mounts for a standard composition shingle roof in Greenwich, Conn.

Ecofasten’s RockIt system


Key consideration: It’s a typical 35° snowy Mid-March day complicating jobsite conditions, so installers want to move quick.

Solution: The simplicity of Ecofasten’s RockIt system allows the installation team to complete the nearly 12-kW project in 7 hours, enabling installers to escape the bitter weather conditions in as short a time as possible. RockIt has a one-tool approach and only six components, much fewer than typical rooftop mounting systems. Furthermore, the rail-less RockIt solution allows for fewer roof penetrations compared with a rail-based system, further cutting down installation time and product parts. The installation team comments that they were able to bring all materials up to the roof quickly, with products being packaged in small boxes.


A 7-kW PV system installed on a regular comp shingle roof, 18-degree pitch with 24-in. OC rafter spacing. Twenty-four REC 295 modules at three rows of eight modules. Due to zoning and maximum rail spans, there are 30 roof attachments.

SnapNrack Ultra Rail System’

Key consideration: Time on and off is a priority as the crew is required to complete two jobs per day.

Solution: The SnapNrack Ultra Rail System’s snap-in strategy is featured throughout the installation process — from the the snap-in Ultra Rail Mounts to the module clamps to the wire management accessories. The lightweight rail and pre-assembled components allow for easy transportation on and off the roof. All components are installed with a single tool, a ½-in. socket, eliminating the need for more parts and pieces on the roof. An installation team of four can install this 7-kW system in less than 4 hours, allowing them to get two jobs done and still get home in time for dinner with the family.


A typical existing asphalt roof for a retrofit PV installation.

Roof Tech MINI


Key consideration: The installer wants to secure the mounting system to the roof without having to undo the existing seal of the roof shingles or affect the roof warranty.

Solution: Because of its simplicity and the ICC-certified “flexible flashing” system, the Roof Tech MINI is fastened to the roof without the need to damage the seal of the existing shingles. This approach does not impose a damage of the underlayment nor does it require the removal of nails needed to secure the asphalt shingle roofing. By comparison, installing a traditional metal flashing system on an existing asphalt roof requires the breaking of the seal between shingles and can cause additional damage to the underlayment through scratching it with the metal flange. Also, the opening of a hole on the underlayment from pulling an existing nail used to secure the shingles above in order to slide the upper metal flange into the third course also poses another quality issue. RoofTech says it avoids violating the roof warranty while allowing for a quicker installation time. Additional time is saved in comparison to lag bolts, due to the use of wood screws which don’t need a pilot hole.


A homeowner getting an asphalt shingle roof replacement requests a quote for solar but express minimal interest in rack and panel systems feeling it’s a ‘dated’ look.

Apollo II solar roofing system

Key consideration:  Losing this sale by only offering traditional rack and panel solar.

Solution: The Apollo II solar roofing systems from CertainTeed are engineered for seamless integration with new or existing asphalt shingle roofs. Each all-black solar shingle offers 63 watts of rated power, and at 1.22 in. thick, provides a sleek, low-profile aesthetic. Apollo II solar shingles attach directly to the roof sheathing with standard deck screws, feature a concealed wiring design and can be installed in any wind zone (including Florida’s high velocity hurricane zone). Dynamic flashing allows for flexibility in rooftop system layout, with water channels and raised fastener locations providing superior protection against water intrusion.


A small 17-kW commercial job at Canterland Farms near the Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area in Oregon.

SunModo’s 1-in. EZ Standing Seam Clamps

Key consideration: It can be a challenge for installers to fasten standing seam clamps onto the roof seams because many clamps have attachment screws that are too close to the flat roof surface.

Solution: SunModo’s 1-in. EZ Standing Seam Clamps can be attached to a wide variety of seam profiles. The EZ Standing Seam Clamps use set-screws to compress the seam material against the opposite wall of the clamp. The preassembled set-screws can be attached on the vertical leg of the clamp or on the adjacent leg with its 10-degree angle and hook for greater gripping. The clamps are super easy to install, and the upward angle of the set-screws leaves plenty of work space between the drill and the roof. The oval end set-screws and proper torque ensures the protective coating of the roof seam is not damaged during installation.

SunModo also offers 2-in. EZ Standing Seam Clamps which can be installed in-situ at the desired seam attachment location. These clamps are a two-part assembly and uses the same upward angled set-screws to secure them firmly to the roof; no more sliding clamps up the roof line.


Sloped metal roof on residential and commercial buildings are mostly standing seam, R-Panel trapezoidal and corrugated metal roofs, but due to different profiles from different manufacturers, there are various brackets available for solar installations.

MageBracket R


Key consideration: Save time wasted by checking out each roof profile and settle on only one or a few brackets that fit most of the metal roofs.

Solution: The MageBracket R has an angle-adjustable bracket that fits most of the popular R-panel trapezoidal metal roofs. The bracket has two adjustable parts that can rotate to fit the rib with different angles. Therefore, installers don’t need to check out the roof profile first, then look for the right bracket and then wait for the bracket to arrive. Instead, they can stock just one bracket to save money and time. Similarly, MageBracket CH is also an angle-adjustable bracket that fits most corrugated metal roofs with rotating parts for different angles. For low-profile corrugated metal roofs of only 1/4 in. to 1/2 in. tall, MageBracket CL is width-adjustable and fits most low-profile corrugated metal roofs.


Installer is struggling to find structural members. They are drilling enough probing holes to infer center from a series of hits and misses. Stud finders cannot read through layers of roofing material and plywood and other high-tech devices have given mixed results.

RafterEye LLC Clampster,


Key consideration: Locating rafters without creating more penetrations than are needed to install the PV system.

Solution: Tucson-based RafterEye LLC just launched Clampster, a rafter center locating tool, to assist PV installers and others in rooftop attachments. Clampster — which can be used in a variety of construction applications such as exposed beams, porches, navigable attics, skip sheathing, log rafters — works through any roof type except steel. The clamp portion of Clampster grips the rafter just below the deck, and it works by forming a magnetic field around and through a rafter or truss. A rooftop worker reads the magnetic field, which points precisely to rafter center before any penetrations are made. The magnetic field can be read through up to 6 in. of insulating material that may be present (above or below the roof deck) between the available portion of the rafter and the roof membrane. There is no need to infer from one or both edges. Workers move rapidly, precisely locating one attachment point after another before any penetrations are made.


A rooftop that’s not quite near replacement but getting there. Homeowner wants a solar system now, but also wants to avoid the hassle of removing/reinstalling at replacement time.

APA Solar Racking Pre-Engineered Kit

Key consideration: This is a home in the Northeast, which is notorious for rocky soil.

Solution: APA Solar Racking has a Pre-Engineered Kit that’s a concrete-free solution for project sizes under 150 kW. This system is custom to any two panel increments. It comes with every part necessary for the racking, and 10 kW can be installed in 4 hours with a skid steer and auger attachment. In lieu of concrete, APA offers three types of foundations: helical anchor, geoballast and ground screw. A ground screw is best used in rocky soils, whereas a helical is ideal for soft organic soils. A geoballast is used when the soil is non penetrative.


A farm with high electric load and a 15-kW AC capacity cap in place. There is a time-of-use (TOU) rate schedule in place from the utility, with the higher rate between 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There is an open view of the sky E,S,W.

AllEarth Solar Tracker


Key consideration: The roof is not great from a structural or orientation perspective, and a ground-based solution should make best use of land.

Solution: The AllEarth Solar Tracker is a grid-tied, dual-axis solar tracker ideal for both commercial and residential settings to take advantage of the sky E,S,W to get maximum production. Here, there would be minimal if any shading from buildings, trees, etc. due to the open farm field. Any permit limitations with an AC limit (vs. DC) will be an advantage for this tracker which produces more power (kWh/kW). The tracker system can be sized to that 15-kW cap and produce up to 45 percent more energy than a similarly sized fixed-tilt system. All of this takes up less room compared to fixed, helping the farmer get the most yield from their land. Under and between the trackers is still usable land for most agricultural needs. Due to the increased afternoon/evening production of the tracker, more kWhs are produced during the TOU, which best offsets costs.


A new crew member is on a presidential shingle roof installing flashings and L-feet. He rips open a plastic bag containing EPDM washers for the lag screws, and several fly out, rolling off the roof. He then places a flashing over the uneven presidential shingle tabs and installs the lag with an impact driver.

Pegasus’ Comp Mount


Key consideration: Quality control. When installing on un-even shingle tabs, such as presidential shingles, 1) press-fit flashings can crack at the water seal; 2) flashings with deck-level water seals may not seat fully against the L-foot, and 3) adhesive reliant flashings may not seal to the shingles around the roof penetration. All of these scenarios have leak potential.

Solution: Pegasus’ Comp Mount has several features to ensure high-quality, lasting and consistent installations. The All-In-One kit packaging has no plastic bags and includes all flashings, L-feet, lags and EPDM washers so there’s less chance of forgetting parts at the shop. The EPDM washers come pre-installed onto the lags to ensure they are installed every time and not lost in gutters. Pegasus’ Comp Flashing has a 0.7-in.-tall cone formed from a single piece of metal, meaning there are no deck-level washers or press-fit pieces to break and allow a roof leak. Pegasus’ L-foot elevates the water seal 0.9-in. above the roof surface, diverting much of the water flow. Finally, a bonded EPDM washer at the lag head acts as a final defense against water intrusion.

— Solar Builder magazine

Sustainable Planning: Inside McCarthy Building’s holistic approach to solar development

McCarthy Building

When a $4.5 billion-a-year employee-owned solar EPC determined how to best maximize local trainee headcounts on projects, the solution not only made strong economic sense but also presented an unusual competitive edge. Indeed, McCarthy Building, based in St. Louis, has constructed a reputation of having one of the best worker training programs in U.S. solar.

Company-wide, McCarthy has about 150 full-time solar workers, and has been ranked the 7th largest solar EPC in the country.

Part of the inspiration for maximizing local trainees is political. Solar RFPs often contain requirements for a contractor to make local hires or to train local workers. If several bidders make similar offers in terms of cost, the offer of a high level of worker training can swing a selection committee.

McCarthy uses about 9 million man-hours of labor per year, and that number rises to 30 million if sub-contractor trades are included, reckons Scott Canada, the SVP of renewable energy for the company, located in Phoenix. On average, a solar project in a newer geographic market may include 1 million man-hours, with a mix of 30 percent staff and 70 percent local workers, of which many are trainees, he calculates.

This feature originally appeared in the May/June issue of Solar Builder. Don’t miss our Solar + Storage issue in July — subscribe to Solar Builder magazine (print or digital) for FREE today

Some solar EPCs use an inversion of McCarthy’s ratio, employing 70 percent staff and using only 30 percent local trainees. Much of the determination of which ratio fits the job is how fast the project is going up, whether the site is in a mature solar market and how far the job is from headquarters or a branch office.

Using a high percentage of local workers in areas like the Southeast, where rainfall is frequent, saves McCarthy on hotel bills, travel costs and incentive pay for traveling, Canada notes.

“For a new job, we will bring in a small, well-trained crew, and the starting point normally is the local chamber of commerce and employment office,” Canada explains. “We coordinate with them, and they help us engage with job fairs and to reach out to training offices operated by the local economic development office.”

In the wrong hands, using this many inexperienced workers could lead to all sorts of issues, but McCarthy has embedded a tried and true training method into its core principles that’s turned this potential shortcoming into a strength.

Training Day

McCarthy employs Training Within Industry (TWI) methods to train its workforce, which focus on helping supervisors in their support and instruction techniques to improve daily work methods. The TWI Institute, based in Liverpool, N.Y., was formed in 2002 and is now a global organization offering its training methodology in over 18 languages.

“We practice the guidelines of the TWI, try to funnel trainees into union programs and we do labor tracking for all our workers,” Canada says. “We definitely will hire workers back on another job.”
TWI instruction modules are tailored to specific industries, like solar. The most basic module TWI offers is Job Instruction training, which teaches a method for instructing an operator how to perform a job correctly, safely and conscientiously.

While most job processes are performed by various workers using different methods, Job Instruction training requires trainers and workers to identify the “one best way,” TWI says. By teaching the process one way, which can be an evolving refinement, a standard method is created across operators and shifts. Additional benefits of the Job Instruction methodology are reduced training time, less scrap and rework plus increased job satisfaction.

Another module of the TWI process is Job Methods Training, which builds on the skills of the operators and first line leaders including team leaders, supervisors and group leaders. The aim of the module is to produce greater quantities of quality products in less time by making the best use of the people, machines and materials currently available. Participants are taught how to break down jobs into their constituent operations. Every detail is questioned in a systematic manner to generate ideas for improvement. New methods are developed by eliminating, combining, rearranging and simplifying steps in the process.

TWI modules also include Job Instruction Follow-up, Job Safety, Job Relations, Union Job Relations and Problem Solving.

While trainees can help keep wage costs down, their TWI education also helps produce a better-quality product, improves labor efficiency and improves safety, Canada enumerates.

McCarthy Building solar training

Holistic installation

Given McCarthy’s sensitivity to its worker environment, it is not surprising that the company has a thoughtful approach to its treatment of the actual environment.

As a top 20 green builder in the country, with $7.6 billion worth of green construction projects complete, McCarthy takes its “Leaving Green Footprints” mission statement seriously, weaving sustainability throughout its end-to-end process by:

  • Encouraging every client and building partner to seriously consider sustainable building practices
  • Bringing viable green building solutions to the table; and
  • Educating employees to give them the tools to lead the way on the jobsite

McCarthy helps clients achieve sustainability goals through design assistance in energy efficiency and net-zero energy systems as well as in water conservation and wastewater management, Canada notes.

McCarthy Building

Green leadership impacts a project in a variety of ways. One impact is stewardship in the chain of ownership of materials that might be a requirement of LEED certification for the project. Another is in energy efficiency, which might include the use of LEDs for temporary lighting even if the upfront costs are more expensive than standard lighting, since a return on the investment can be spread over several jobs. In the case of a solar project, McCarthy will aim at early operation so that solar energy can be used to power continuing site operations.

Water conservancy is another jobsite practice that can help limit consumption at a site, which is paramount in desert locations. Similarly, wastewater control can avoid construction debris runoff into community storm water networks or worse, into fresh water systems.

Using sustainable design and construction practices, McCarthy has developed a strategy for reducing waste during the installation. Through Simple Set Up Solutions, an Atlanta-based firm that connects recyclers and local vendors to find end-use buyers for construction site waste, McCarthy formed a unique partnership with recycler JWC Environmental whereby construction waste is being recycled into roofing felt and other building materials while eliminating landfill expenses. As an example, construction of its three Meridian projects in Mississippi, over 80 MW total, will be at least 98 percent sustainable because of this program. The recovery of reusable materials can help reduce cost at the next project.

McCarthy brings its sustainability practices to every job, which now includes over 1.7 GW of installed solar and another 300 MW of battery storage. The company has built close to a dozen solar plants of 50 MW or more, close to two dozen solar plants between 10 MW and 50 MW, and various smaller projects.

“We’re not just a ‘sustainable building company,’” Canada says. “We’re commercial builders whose commitment to environmental responsibility is ingrained in the way we think, from the design phase through post-construction.”

Charles W. Thurston is a freelance writer covering solar energy from Northern California.

— Solar Builder magazine

Countdown to California 2020, part III: Would you like solar with that?

solar panel food tray illustration

As we hit the halfway point in our Countdown to 2020, the residential solar market in the here and now is showing signs of stability. The residential solar market grew 7 percent in 2018 following a 15 percent market contraction in 2017, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2018 Year-in-Review Report from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). That’s five consecutive quarters of modest growth with Q4 2018 being the largest quarter for residential solar in two years.

Of course, California’s new build solar mandate that we are obsessing over in this six-part series plays a part in that — a stroke of government influence that guarantees “an additional gigawatt of residential demand from 2020-2024E.”

“With a pivot toward more efficient sales channels, both national and regional installers exceeded expectations in California and Nevada, which drove the lion’s share of residential growth in 2018,” states Austin Perea, senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

Perea doesn’t see this as a random blip though, noting signs of structural market stability being built across the country, such as the diminishing influence of net metering. Up until now, any changes to NEM or rate structures would have created “demand pull-in,” but despite anticipated changes to incentives and NEM in 2019 to 2020, the major Northeast markets collectively saw no growth in installation volumes. As stated in the report:

“This suggests that while changes to NEM policy and other incentives have greatly impacted growth in years past, 2018 marks a year of market maturation. While strong NEM policy remains an essential foundation for rooftop solar adoption, future growth across legacy markets will require technology and business-model innovation to tap into new customer demographics.”

This is a great segue into Installment III of the Countdown to 2020, our year-long news series covering all the implications of the California Energy Commission’s solar mandate. We started by examining the language of the Building Energy Efficiency standards (Installment I). Then, we explored the direct impact of this rule on homebuilders and new home PV systems (Installment II). Now, we ripple out further to explore those “technology and business-model innovations” that could ride this wave beyond California’s borders.

The Roof is on Fire

In Installment II, we relied on results of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s “Cost-Reduction Roadmap for Residential Solar Photovoltaics, 2017-2030” technical report to understand new home PV pricing possibilities. The report pegged new home solar as the No. 1 pathway to the lowest cost residential PV at 5 cents per kWh. The No. 2 pathway was roof replacement, which NREL analysts pegged in a range from 8.1 cents per kWh to 5.5 cents per kWh. That most aggressive outcome is 0.5 cents per kWh more than the most aggressive new home solar pricing pathway, but what roof replacement PV loses on potential pricing per system, it gains back by not needing an entire new home to be built with it.

The potential for solar within the $30 billion residential roofing industry is mind-blowing. NREL estimates there will be 3.8 million roof replacements in California between 2017 and 2030, conservatively 1.21 GW of potential annual capacity (2.44 GW if you want to get aggressive). Here are some roof replacement + PV system pricing reduction ranges calculated by NREL:

  • Labor cost reduction of 28 to 50 percent in cents per Watt versus the Q1 2017 benchmark
  • Structural BOS cost reduction of 64 percent in cents per Watt versus the Q1 2017 benchmark
  • Customer acquisition cost reductions of 24 to 74 percent versus the Q1 2017 benchmark

Roofing companies have the potential to turn legacy customer lists and their steady roof replacement inquiries instantly into a pile of solid solar customer leads.

Clearly, if it was this easy for roofing companies to tack on solar installation services, they’d have done it by now. Solar technology isn’t exactly plug and play (although it is getting close), and the solar sales process is a different beast than roof replacement sales. There are obstacles to be sure, but heading into California’s 2020 world, roofing companies bundling solar installations into their product offering seems like a no-brainer. Do leaders in the segment agree? Are we headed down this pathway?

Would you like solar with that?

GAF Energy

GAF Energy rendering

GAF is one of the largest roofing suppliers in America, with over 6,000 GAF-certified roofers across the country — many of whom are already partnered with similarly sized homebuilders. The company debuted its own roof-integrated solar mounting system in 2017, DecoTech, and is now dramatically expanding its solar product and service offering via a new sister company, GAF Energy, to make a dent in supply chain, customer acquisition, labor and permitting costs.

“If you look at solar, soft costs are a greater percentage of the overall costs than the hardware,” says Martin DeBono, president of GAF Energy. “We determined that to get the scale to make a meaningful impact, we had to attack both, so at GAF Energy we have a full organization whose focus is to make every roof a solar roof. It’s not just about the product but the complete experience for the homeowner to get solar on a roof, commissioned and generating energy.”

The big production homebuilders operate at such scale that they need a complete solution for solar from the likes of Sunrun and SunPower. The GAFs of the world on the other hand are building out services for the mid-tier, long-tail contractors.

“The production builders have so much purchasing power, they drive our parts down really low in solar by placing large RFPs to start a pricing competition,” DeBono says. “But with the services we are now offering, we will be much more valuable to mid-market and smaller players. On the completion of install, we will provide electrical services and PTO services [permission to operate]. Contractors won’t want to deal with the utilities if they don’t have that expertise, so we will provide that.”

David Jenkins, director of development with Beacon Roofing, a $7 billion roofing and building supplier with more than 100,000 individual customer accounts across the United States and Canada, thinks roofing contractors already established in any market can meet and drive this demand much quicker than national solar installers (with the help of Beacon, of course).

“The pitch of Sunrun and SunPower is ‘hey builder, let us take all of the difficult solar stuff off your hands,’” says Jenkins, who sees Beacon making this business model possible for solar and roofing contractors of all sizes. “We kit the system for them and deliver it to the jobsite, and we help them drive down the cost of a standardized solar array that they can scale and keep consistent within a new construction community. We’re going to be the go-to solution for custom homebuilders and folks that want to have a say in how they specify the solar that’s going on their homes.”

These are the types of business model innovations NREL was factoring into its pricing outlook. Beacon launched its solar division back in 2008 to carry leading brands in solar products just as it does roofing and building supplies. The solar division is now primarily focused on long-tail residential installers and roofing companies, and Jenkins tells us they are expanding their service offerings like GAF Energy with stuff like logistics, just-in-time delivery, credit and cash flow support.

“Because of our scale and presence in these markets we can benefit when a new solar market gets stronger and suddenly starts growing rapidly whether it’s Florida or Illinois or any state with a new interest,” Jenkins says.

Both DeBono and Jenkins note that the solar sales disconnect is a very real barrier, but both Beacon and GAF Energy have built tools to simplify things. GAF Energy plans to remove that friction by appealing to homeowners at the same time they are getting a new roof with the help of a quick estimating and design tool for both homeowners and roofers.

“We’re going after people who want a new roof with a would-you-like-fries-with-that approach,” DeBono says. “We need to be sure our customers are prepared to have that conversation, and our roofing partners are ready to have that conversation, so that’s what we’re rolling out right now.”

Solar switcheroo?


Solar installers should seriously explore making use of the roof replacement pathway too, either through channel partnerships or by offering in-house roof replacement services. Gary Liardon, president and COO at PetersenDean Roofing & Solar, tells us they are driving a blend of the two industries.

“We have invested in cross training that will provide for efficiencies in new construction installations where the roofer and PV installer will divide tasks,” he says.

In the State of California, PetersenDean employs its own install teams and self-performs the work, but on a national level it has a combination approach using both direct employees and preferred installation subcontractors.

Beacon’s new 3D+ platform, pitched as an “Amazon-like purchasing portal for B2B contractors” is a slick new tool for estimating a roof replacement job and could be a perfect entry point for solar installers looking to grow their customer list. Contractors can order and get delivery of the solar materials and roofing materials that they need at their warehouse or jobsite. With its Pro+ product, contractors can automate customized order workflows, get access to live pricing, send material orders directly to their Beacon Roofing Supply location and track deliveries from theirsmartphone.

“Having homeowner-facing salespeople is one of your highest costs in the solar business, and when you can increase your closing ratio by several percentage points and can sell a roof and not turn away those potential projects, that’s where you get the dramatic return on investment — at the contractor level,” Jenkins says. “We’ve got pros trained on how to coach installers to improve their roofing business, or if you’re in the trade and want to get into roofing, we have excellent people and tools to do that.”

DeBono also believes, no matter the tools used, customer interest in solar has hit a tipping point, which is really what’s causing all of these new divisions and software tools to launch in the first place.

“The big change I’ve seen among homeowners and consumers is the awareness of their impact on the environment and their desire to actually do something,” DeBono says. “As long as I’ve been in solar people have always been aware of the benefits of solar, but now we are seeing the expansion of that potential customer base.”

One other thing to consider as the years roll is the combination of more efficient homes and no sell-back shrinking the average residential solar system size right along with solar installer margins.

“With TOU rates, our analysis shows, for most customers in California, a smaller system provides a higher ROI,” DeBono says. “Contractors used to 7-kW systems will be selling 4 or 5 kW. I think they will need other offerings for their customers to maintain their same business.

“Think of it this way,” he continues. “All roofs will be this way in 20 years. So, there will be a conflict at some point because the largest roofing companies in the world will be doing this. Solar installers have the skills to do [roof replacements], and it could be an additional amount of business. If you’re only going to install solar, your life can be dictated by policy and tax code and things outside of your control. But if you have a business that’s both roofing and solar, it certainly mitigates the risk and there’s a hell of a lot more demand.”


New homes requiring solar. The largest roofing and building materials distribution companies launching whole new divisions to serve solar sales. Everyone we talk to says there will be plenty of solar business to keep everyone busy, but we can’t shake the feeling that the business of the retrofit solar installer in California will shift much more dramatically than people expect, dictated by the approach of long-established homebuilder and roofing channels.

One thing all of these new product procurement and installation service channels lack is a plan for dealing with PV systems post-installation. They can make a PV system as easy to install as a roof, but the PV itself, its combination with storage and its ever-growing importance within smart homes will require a much greater level of service throughout its lifetime.

Therein lies a key for today’s solar installers to stay an integral part of home energy in 2020 and beyond. We will explore the opportunity for storage, monitoring and smart home services in our next installments.

— Solar Builder magazine