How a sealant pump reduced solar panel waste by 50 percent

diagram

Diagram provided by Shanghai Shengpu.

Based in Shanghai, China, Shanghai Shengpu entered the solar market in 2008 and is a primary developer of systems solar manufacturers use to dispense sealant that bonds solar panels together. While Shanghai Shengpu’s dispensing systems are prevalent in the solar industry, its systems are also prominent in the gas and electronics industries. Shanghai Shengpu dispensing systems account for 80 percent of all solar panel bonding systems in China, helping to contribute to the $43 billion solar market, and several of its module manufacturing clients will be opening up facilities in the United States in the coming years.

Pump upgrade

Before Shanghai Shengpu took its dispensing systems to the solar panel market, it conducted an assessment of its existing equipment to confirm that it was still working with the best products to develop its dispensing systems. Every solar panel plant conducts a process called “framing,” where they attach an aluminum frame onto the solar panel. During framing, the dispensing system is used to lay down the sealant that adheres the aluminum frame to the glass panel.

Shanghai Shengpu evaluated the framing process and found that there was an opportunity to improve the existing system by incorporating a piston pump package from ARO, a brand of Ingersoll Rand.

Sealant dispensing systems all have a piston pump package that includes the transfer sealant, a metering unit to ensure dispensing accuracy, a dispensing valve for on/off control and a work table to hold the frame and control the movement of the dispensing valve. After the dispensing process is complete, the frames are transferred by machine or by manpower to the panel assembly machine. When developed correctly, a solar panel should last for about 25 to 30 years from installation to retirement.

For Shanghai Shengpu, an ARO piston pump package was a better fit for ensuring proper panel development compared to the previously used pump system for three key reasons:

  1. ARO piston pumps offer the right
    pressure for sealant dispensing
  2. ARO piston pumps offer service
    packages for pump repair or maintenance
  3. The ARO team proposed many pump
    suggestions that were applied to improve the dispensing process

“The implementation of the ARO piston pump package into our dispensing systems brought immediate benefits to our process,” said Fu Jianyi, general manager at Shanghai Shengpu. “The biggest improvement was the ARO team’s recommendation to implement a new follower plate. Previously, sealant was left behind in the drum resulting in a significant amount of waste. With the help of ARO, we improved the structure of the plate resulting in 50 percent less waste.”

With a wide selection of pressure ratios and displacement rates available, ARO offers a variety of application packages preconfigured with the right motor, piston pump, mount, controls and downstream accessories. Packages range and offer multiple configurations, including single-post, two-post and heavy-duty two-post, to ensure the best solution for the application. Preassembled and validated application packages eliminate the guesswork that comes with choosing the optimal pump. For Shanghai Shengpu, the ARO 55-gallon, two-post ram piston pump package was best suited for creating the dispensing system.

A Growing Market

When Shanghai Shengpu implemented the ARO piston pump package into its dispensing system development process, it was able to see significant improvements. In a market that is set to grow significantly over the next several years, ensuring that solar panels are developed the best way possible is only going to help the market get there faster.

Jim Artmann is Global Product Leader for ARO.

— Solar Builder magazine

Market Driver: When augers, ground screws make economic sense for solar contractors

 

auger-ground-screw

The use of augers and ground screws has been of interest in mounting solar systems for some time, and for the right size job, they offer smaller solar contractors an opportunity to grow their business.

Small site factors

For one, with smaller PV systems, one may not need to spend money on a soil engineering analysis and the cost to permit the design separately. The typical soil type in an area may be known from experience. Perhaps local experience with other construction such as a home foundation or a water line installation can provide clues to the soil type.

A method used by some contractors is to use a hammer drill and ground rod available from an electric supply store and see how easily the rod can be driven into the earth. If the rod hits solid rock 6 inches below the surface, or if the rod is very hard to drive, this could either disqualify the use of ground driven foundations, or in some cases lead to using ground screws rather than augers.

Additionally, many counties and states have published maps showing the soil types for many locations. Other sources of data are well sites where there is often a record by the foot of the surface to depths much greater than one would drive a ground-mount.

Selecting a ground-mount

Once a determination has been made as to the type of soil at a site, the installer should select a ground mount to use at a site. If the soil type is not heavily compacted and not rocky, one can consider the use of augers. Most typically, a ground auger driven 7 to 10 ft. will suffice for most 3- and 4-row landscape arrays.

If the ground is compacted, made up of heavy clay, or has small rocks within the first 10 ft., then a ground screw would probably be a better choice. Ground screws offer lower torque when driving them into the soil and are less likely to break in harder ground. However, in soft, loamy soils a ground screw will not provide big pullout values compared to an auger.

If the ground is too rocky, other options such as post and concrete, ballasted arrays, or rock anchors may be a better alternative. Experience with ground arrays will greatly help in the selection of a ground mounting system.

Driving ground mounts

Some form of tractor or track machine is required to drive ground-driven foundations. These machines are easy to rent and use, and depending on the volume you are doing, worth owning. Small arrays with only 8 or 12 posts are probably not worth the investment, but between that and larger arrays that require a specialized company to drive the mounts, there is a sweet spot that makes financial sense.

The machine used will need some form of rotary head such as the small Bobcats used to dig holes for pole buildings and fence posts. Alternately, some farm tractors have a rear-mounted rotary

driver used for fence posts that may be used.
Most equipment rental yards can supply a small track machine normally used with a hole-digging auger. With the hole-digging auger removed, an adaptor can be used to mate the drive head to fit augers and ground screws. A 2 in. hex adaptor that fits the machine can be purchased by the installer if not available from the equipment rental yard with the machine.

The amount of torque required to drive a ground mount should not be more than a nominal 3,000 lbs. If more torque is required, or if the mounts are breaking, than the wrong mount was selected. If augers break, a ground screw should have been used. If ground screws break, then a non-driven mount should be used.

If occasionally a mount breaks due to an undetected boulder or other issue, a traditional post and concrete mounting should be used. In the case of Groundwater, a 50-kW project in Portland, Ore., where over 400 augers were used, eight anchors broke due to large sporadic rocks and were replaced with eight concrete-mounted posts.

Calculations and measurements

There are many resources available covering the use and calculations for commercial construction using augers and ground screws. These include Chance Hubble manuals, and other commercial suppliers of augers. However, there are some general guidelines one can follow summarized below.

Augers have a pitch determined by the blade angle. Our auger is a 10-to-1 auger. Using a 10-to-1 auger, each ft lb of torque driving the auger provides approximately 10 times the uplift capability when driven to 10 ft of depth. For example, if an auger is driven with 500 lbs of torque to 10 ft. the pullout will be approximately 5,000 pounds. Typically, augers are driven much harder, resulting in tested pullup values of 20,000 to 30,000 lbs. Most often, augers driven in reasonable soil values will dramatically exceed the pullout values actually required to resist pullout or overturn of the array.

In the case of ground screws, they are typically applied to more dense soils and solids with rock intermixed. A ground screw should not be used in solid rock.
Ground screws in hard soils have pullout values of 1,500 to 5,000 lbs at a depth of 5 ft., however this estimate is entirely based upon the soil density. The use of ground screws in soft soils will not provide a satisfactory base for a solar array.

The use of a torque measurement gauge is recommended as an additional check on the drive torque and resulting pullout capability. Some modern machines one can rent or buy have a built-in torque gauge. Additionally, there are devices that can mount between the hydraulic head and the ground mount to measure the torque. However, a careful operator will have some sense of the amount of effort required to drive the ground mounts, and in most cases can successfully install and drive ground arrays without a torque head.

Cliff Schrock is an engineering consultant with SunModo.

 


On the Scene

Ready to rack

AP Alternatives’ Ready Rack mounting hardware is designed for both large utility-scale projects and small commercial projects. The small helical anchors and quick-install cross bracing make the simple system robust even for high wind zones. The mini-tilt brackets are adjustable and allow for quick field alignment of the post height. This allows the anchor posts to be installed rapidly and any terrain variation can be accounted for by simply adjusting the tilt bracket up or down to achieve the best aesthetics on an ungraded site. This system is nimbly installed with an attachment that fits on a skid steer.

— Solar Builder magazine

Clear and Present Data: Utility data is kept in the dark, but these providers are shedding some light

utility data

Solar customer data is increasingly being used for quantifiable savings by solar installers, developers, energy arbitrators and utilities. The software companies specialized in gathering and aggregating this data on residential, commercial and industrial levels are also building more functional systems that will help to standardize energy efficiency and asset management platforms, beneficial for all levels of data use.

Solar data usage is contingent on customers’ willingness to share their data with the local utility, which is no small hurdle for the industry, suggests Matt Kuo, the vice president of product at Atlanta-based Urjanet. “Initiatives like Green Button are great, but adoption has not been as rapid as many people expected. That’s why we exist,” he says.

The Green Button initiative is “an industry-led effort that responds to a White House call-to-action to provide utility customers with easy and secure access to their energy usage information in a consumer-friendly and computer-friendly format,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

While such standards are slow to emerge, companies like Urjanet and UtillityAPI independently contact users for data sharing permission, aggregate and clean the data, and often manage the utility-to-customer-to-developer interface.

Urjanet, which launched its solar-specific service, Utility Data for Solar, in May, has access to residential and commercial energy usage, cost and location data from more than 750 electric utilities in over 15 countries, Kuo says. By offering on-demand, accurate and complete energy usage, cost and location data from more than 900 utilities, Utility Data for Solar aims to bring an automated, streamlined process to existing and emerging solar markets worldwide.

sb-econference-web-post

Solar installers typically spend a lot of time analyzing utility data for a potential residential customer, drawing on historic usage, rate thresholds and grid connection scenarios. With access to a solar data service, this information can be delivered rapidly and at a low cost, says Daniel Roesler, the co-founder, CEO and CTO of UtilityAPI. His company provides comprehensive data on a single meter for a mere $15 one-time charge, with ongoing meter reads at $2 each. “We only charge if we can get the data back within 24 hours,” he says.

RELATED: Accelerate the solar sales cycle with automated utility data

“With utility data on the backend, a solar installer can access a prospect’s actual address, electric usage, costs and tariff,” Kuo says. “This means that, before even sending someone to the property for a site visit, the installer can assess system size, project customer ROI and determine whether they’re a good candidate for solar. With this information in hand, installers can expect more efficient sales cycles and, ultimately, higher revenue.”

On the commercial side, solar developers not only need to present a cost/benefit analysis to potential customers, but also to analyze the feasibility of a low-cost grid connection, dependent on data about local substations and other utility infrastructure.

“We’ve done about 200 commercial applications over the last four years, yet the number of projects that are actually getting through utility review is only about five percent,” says Tim McDuffie, the director of engineering at CalCom Solar, based in Visalia, Calif.

Merging residential and C&I customers into a community solar development can be even more challenging without detailed solar data and grid availability knowledge. Since community solar projects often include energy storage — if not grid service arbitrage — historic information is needed to launch the project, and ongoing data is needed to manage it.

“We can pull in ongoing utility data for a customer, match it with performance data and calculate true savings — not some savings estimate. This is especially necessary for battery systems,” Roesler says. “Then for the asset management side, our data reporting can be fed into their performance analytics for real-time reporting and future action recommendations.”

Working with regulators

As distributed energy resources proliferate, utilities increasingly must balance decisions about future infrastructure investments as they transition from electricity generators to wires-and-poles companies. Both regulations and software advances will help in the broader use and analysis of solar data.

California’s Public Utilities Commission, for example, is now studying a ground-breaking set of regulations for demand response providers that eventually will apply specifically to solar and other renewable energy forms.

“We wrote the technical standard for a data access platform for demand response as part of one working group,” Roesler notes. “In Hawaii, 30 percent of daytime electrical generation is from distributed resources, but there is not much communication going on between the DERs and the utility. Over time, utilities will want to talk more.”

Since utilities can avoid the cost of new generation facilities by coordinating DER emergence on their grid, they can readily afford to spend many more dollars on more sophisticated software to perform the latter. Such software can be expensive when adapted by a single vendor for a unique utility need, but platform standards in solar data software are now emerging.

UtilityAPI won a grant last year from DOE’s SunShot program for a version of the company’s proprietary software product that a utility could access by 2019. “Then utilities, munis, commercial aggregators and asset managers can acquire the software by licensing,” Roesler says. The grant project is titled “Software for Automatic Utility Data Collection for Solar Proposals,” which provided the company with a $763,000 grant conditioned on an awardee cost share investment of $1.15 million, according to DOE.

The smart home factor

 

As energy management software migrates down from complex utility solutions to residential- and commercial-level tools, the opportunity for calculating real savings through the use of solar data is massive. “We are seeing a lot of traction in the home automation space, especially with smart thermostats,” Kuo says. “Looking at a smart thermostat, a customer can get a monthly energy savings calculation, but that is not tied to the actual dollar amount of savings. We believe that smart thermostats will bridge that gap.”

While such standards are slow to emerge, companies like Urjanet and UtillityAPI independently contact users for data sharing permission, aggregate and clean the data, and often manage the utility-to-customer-to-developer interface.

In the not-so-distant future, Urjanet will also take smart home calculus beyond electricity, to include gas, water and perhaps other utilities as the company has data from some 5,500 electric, gas and water utilities, primarily across North America. A home energy dashboard that could help a customer determine whether to use electricity or gas for a given energy need at a specific time will save on household costs more holistically, Kuo says.

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

— Solar Builder magazine

Six solar industry storylines to watch from Solar Power International 2018

Q Cells

Photo of a cool booth setup.

Your Solar Builder editor entered the whirlwind of news, numbers and handshaking that is Solar Power International and emerged with a notepad filled with gibberish. What language is this? What secrets does it hold? We sent it to a forensics lab, the archaeological department at Oxford and the guy with wild hair on Ancient Aliens for their interpretations. After this thorough analysis, we believe these are the top solar story lines in a post-SPI world …

1. Focus shifts from federal politics to local action

You get the sense that the solar industry has finally punted on trying to waste much more time inching the message boulder up the current administration’s hill and is now putting those resources into local efforts. This is likely the better route to go anyway, and the initiatives announced at SPI could do the trick if developed.

Just before SPI kicked off, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and The Solar Foundation unveiled the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) initiative, which is the latest collective effort of the industry to streamline permitting. Reforms include: A safety and skills training and certification program that allows residential and small commercial solar and battery storage installers to attest that their projects are compliant with applicable codes, to eliminate traditional multi-step permitting processes; a standardized online platform provided to local governments at no cost, a list of established equipment standards and/or certified equipment for solar and storage projects installed through the proposed process and more.

There have been several attempts at this over the years, all of which fell short, but this one might have a shot because of the timing. The economic case for solar has never been better, and the technology and techniques are proven with copious examples to highlight.

Also, what local government would turn down the promise of a ton more jobs? To grow that base of skilled solar workers around the country, the Solar Training Network introduced AmericanSolarWorkforce.org, an online platform to help solar companies recruit qualified candidates; allow solar job seekers to find career and training opportunities; and help the entire industry build a strong and diverse solar workforce. Using this platform, which is free of charge, employers can post opportunities on a solar job board and connect with thousands of candidates looking for solar career opportunities. Employers can also create company profiles, review candidate applications, and communicate with potential hires.

2. Solar pros see the short-comings of the industry and are actively trying to address them.

Two key examples here. First is in grid services. Features for grid services are mentioned all of the time now, from inverter and optimizer products to the need for storage and other ancillary services. I take it as a sign that the relationship between utilities and solar companies is now evolving past an adversarial stage because there’s nothing left to prove about solar as viable generating asset. Now, solar has to prove how it will best integrate and play nice on a wide scale over the long-term. This was always the case, but it feels everyone is getting on the same page about pursuing solutions.

For example, of all the things bouncing around the mind of CJ Colavito, VP of Engineering at Standard Solar, these days, he most wants to find a way to sync third-party radar forecasts with smart inverters for advanced ramp rate control — to ramp down voltage slowly prior to cloud cover that will cause voltage flicker.

Solar Power International

SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper and SEPA CEO Julia Hamm discuss diversity as an important goal for their respective industries.

The second short-coming is a short-coming for most industries: diversity. Judging by comments during the opening session and the upcoming Solar Jobs Census, solar thought leaders realize the industry is in position to not just remake the grid, but the makeup of the American workforce – not just to be PC and nice but because there is value inherent in a diversified workforce with growth opportunities. Also, check out this initiative from SEIA to work with Historically Black Colleges.

3. The full solar life cycle needs more attention.

One area in the U.S. solar industry still in need of attention is the full sustainability of a solar project. For example, panel recycling is a fairly big can that keeps getting kicked down the road. A DNV GL report released at SPI listed stranded assets as a key question in its market mechanics. At some point we will run out of road and kick that can straight into a million tons of PV that needs to be put somewhere. This isn’t a crisis (at least not yet) because there are solutions, at least according to First Solar, which has developed a standard for doing so and been put its system in place. Solar is recycled fairly easily — and for a profit — in Europe and that model could be replicated here.

The next can soon to be kicked is in storage. Storage is basically the key to solar taking over the world, but storage is dirtier than solar on the clean energy scale. Cobalt is a safety hazard. Lithium needs to be mined and poses its own potential for fire. Lead-acid battery companies claim to have the most recyclable solution, but does it perform as well as the future needs? And also, it is comprised of lead and acid. This is stuff that needs to be fully considered within the grand plans.

4. So many storage solutions…

LG energy storage

The new LG energy storage system.

Speaking of storage, every turn on the trade show floor seemed to present a new energy storage system or bundle of products to solve all sorts of solar + storage equations, from simpler backup capabilities to time of use to peak shaving and on and on. Panasonic has a full solution pairing Pika’s islanding inverter with its batteries and modules. LG debuted its complete solar + storage system for the home. SimpliPhi has varied its case sizes and voltage range. Sonnen has gone full tilt into energy management + home automation – a long fantasized idea that is now real-life – that is more load shaping than load shifting.

It’s all very cool. The issue from installers we chatted with at the show is there’s no one software that can deftly handle all of the storage mathematics they need (those that are great for peak shaving can’t be used for resiliency, etc.). There’s more to figure out here, just like on the battery side, but each SPI feels closer and closer to the goal line.

5. Some cool C&I rooftop innovations.

The reigning champion for the “biggest solar opportunity with the biggest issues to solve,” the commercial and industrial rooftop, saw several big-time debuts to ease some of these headaches.

A ton of solar deals are off the table because of the commercial rooftop life cycle and price tag. The deals that do go through on a different timeline than the roof itself are going to be a huge headaches come roof replacement time. Headaches meaning stuff will for sure be broken when the solar system is removed, stored and put back on. Standard Solar and Carlisle Roofing teaming up to solve this at the outset with a bundled package — a new C&I silicone coating spray applied to the existing roof membrane (with optional insulating foam) that installed with the PV system. The deal is financed through a PPA agreement with Standard Solar, so the building owner is essentially paying for the new roof (good for 50+ years) during the 25-year PPA.

ESDEC rooftop solar mounting system

The ESDEC Flat-Fix

On the system side, available in the first time in the U.S., Holland-based ESDEC debuted its slick Flat-Fix commercial rooftop mounting system. The same lightweight design can be laid out in south-facing or east-west configurations and is built with one tool, keeping the SKUs at a minimum. The feet are adhered with glue (or a bolt if needed) and an optional ballast tray. The system is already proven but the team needed to make a few tweaks to launch in the U.S., mostly relating to cable management, all of which were cleverly designed like the rest of the system.

Remote C&I system design has never been easier thanks to Nearmap’s updates. Its digital surface and line of sight analysis produces a jaw-droppingly clear picture for 71 percent of the U.S. population that is updated 3 times per year. You can really tell the difference between obstruction or dirt, as well as accurately measure the pitch and dimensions of any surface. When combined with the newest version Aurora Solar’s software, Aurora estimates 10x performance upgrades for multi-megawatt, commercial-scale solar projects added with the ability to simulate the solar energy production of a PV system while designing, allowing real-time assessment of design choices and elimination of change orders. An enhanced “fill zone” functionality is also available to automatically optimize solar panel locations to maximize the number that fit within an available space.

6. The next big trend will emerge from the California solar mandate (and maybe it’s an old one?).

Consider a company like CertainTeed – been around for a long time, and didn’t have a lot new at its booth to discuss. Its solar products are focused mostly on roof-integrated options that are not as popular as traditional mounting + solar panels on an existing roof sold and installed by solar installers. But when all new homes in California are going to need to come with solar already on the roof, will builders and roofers favor something like this they can handle themselves? Or, consider SunFlare, a company with a flexible CIGs technology. In 2018 it seems like a niche product – can be installed on top of existing carports and other nontraditional areas, but it’s close to working with a high-end national homebuilder that liked its solar shingle because “it’s a roofing product, not a solar product,” thus allowing them to install new solar on a new house without contracting out. The president of ESDEC also mentioned that in Holland their mounting system is seen as so simple to install that HVAC companies are a big customer segment for them because they could easily add it to their service offering.

Will the mainstreaming of solar earlier in the building process end up cutting out companies and products that rule the day today? Maybe a wild thought, just remember to keep your hands and arms inside the solarcoaster at all times.

— Solar Builder magazine

Six solar industry storylines to watch from Solar Power International 2018

Q Cells

Photo of a cool booth setup.

Your Solar Builder editor entered the whirlwind of news, numbers and handshaking that is Solar Power International and emerged with a notepad filled with gibberish. What language is this? What secrets does it hold? We sent it to a forensics lab, the archaeological department at Oxford and the guy with wild hair on Ancient Aliens for their interpretations. After this thorough analysis, we believe these are the top solar story lines in a post-SPI world …

1. Focus shifts from federal politics to local action

You get the sense that the solar industry has finally punted on trying to waste much more time inching the message boulder up the current administration’s hill and is now putting those resources into local efforts. This is likely the better route to go anyway, and the initiatives announced at SPI could do the trick if developed.

Just before SPI kicked off, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and The Solar Foundation unveiled the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) initiative, which is the latest collective effort of the industry to streamline permitting. Reforms include: A safety and skills training and certification program that allows residential and small commercial solar and battery storage installers to attest that their projects are compliant with applicable codes, to eliminate traditional multi-step permitting processes; a standardized online platform provided to local governments at no cost, a list of established equipment standards and/or certified equipment for solar and storage projects installed through the proposed process and more.

There have been several attempts at this over the years, all of which fell short, but this one might have a shot because of the timing. The economic case for solar has never been better, and the technology and techniques are proven with copious examples to highlight.

Also, what local government would turn down the promise of a ton more jobs? To grow that base of skilled solar workers around the country, the Solar Training Network introduced AmericanSolarWorkforce.org, an online platform to help solar companies recruit qualified candidates; allow solar job seekers to find career and training opportunities; and help the entire industry build a strong and diverse solar workforce. Using this platform, which is free of charge, employers can post opportunities on a solar job board and connect with thousands of candidates looking for solar career opportunities. Employers can also create company profiles, review candidate applications, and communicate with potential hires.

2. Solar pros see the short-comings of the industry and are actively trying to address them.

Two key examples here. First is in grid services. Features for grid services are mentioned all of the time now, from inverter and optimizer products to the need for storage and other ancillary services. I take it as a sign that the relationship between utilities and solar companies is now evolving past an adversarial stage because there’s nothing left to prove about solar as viable generating asset. Now, solar has to prove how it will best integrate and play nice on a wide scale over the long-term. This was always the case, but it feels everyone is getting on the same page about pursuing solutions.

For example, of all the things bouncing around the mind of CJ Colavito, VP of Engineering at Standard Solar, these days, he most wants to find a way to sync third-party radar forecasts with smart inverters for advanced ramp rate control — to ramp down voltage slowly prior to cloud cover that will cause voltage flicker.

Solar Power International

SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper and SEPA CEO Julia Hamm discuss diversity as an important goal for their respective industries.

The second short-coming is a short-coming for most industries: diversity. Judging by comments during the opening session and the upcoming Solar Jobs Census, solar thought leaders realize the industry is in position to not just remake the grid, but the makeup of the American workforce – not just to be PC and nice but because there is value inherent in a diversified workforce with growth opportunities. Also, check out this initiative from SEIA to work with Historically Black Colleges.

3. The full solar life cycle needs more attention.

One area in the U.S. solar industry still in need of attention is the full sustainability of a solar project. For example, panel recycling is a fairly big can that keeps getting kicked down the road. A DNV GL report released at SPI listed stranded assets as a key question in its market mechanics. At some point we will run out of road and kick that can straight into a million tons of PV that needs to be put somewhere. This isn’t a crisis (at least not yet) because there are solutions, at least according to First Solar, which has developed a standard for doing so and been put its system in place. Solar is recycled fairly easily — and for a profit — in Europe and that model could be replicated here.

The next can soon to be kicked is in storage. Storage is basically the key to solar taking over the world, but storage is dirtier than solar on the clean energy scale. Cobalt is a safety hazard. Lithium needs to be mined and poses its own potential for fire. Lead-acid battery companies claim to have the most recyclable solution, but does it perform as well as the future needs? And also, it is comprised of lead and acid. This is stuff that needs to be fully considered within the grand plans.

4. So many storage solutions…

LG energy storage

The new LG energy storage system.

Speaking of storage, every turn on the trade show floor seemed to present a new energy storage system or bundle of products to solve all sorts of solar + storage equations, from simpler backup capabilities to time of use to peak shaving and on and on. Panasonic has a full solution pairing Pika’s islanding inverter with its batteries and modules. LG debuted its complete solar + storage system for the home. SimpliPhi has varied its case sizes and voltage range. Sonnen has gone full tilt into energy management + home automation – a long fantasized idea that is now real-life – that is more load shaping than load shifting.

It’s all very cool. The issue from installers we chatted with at the show is there’s no one software that can deftly handle all of the storage mathematics they need (those that are great for peak shaving can’t be used for resiliency, etc.). There’s more to figure out here, just like on the battery side, but each SPI feels closer and closer to the goal line.

5. Some cool C&I rooftop innovations.

The reigning champion for the “biggest solar opportunity with the biggest issues to solve,” the commercial and industrial rooftop, saw several big-time debuts to ease some of these headaches.

A ton of solar deals are off the table because of the commercial rooftop life cycle and price tag. The deals that do go through on a different timeline than the roof itself are going to be a huge headaches come roof replacement time. Headaches meaning stuff will for sure be broken when the solar system is removed, stored and put back on. Standard Solar and Carlisle Roofing teaming up to solve this at the outset with a bundled package — a new C&I silicone coating spray applied to the existing roof membrane (with optional insulating foam) that installed with the PV system. The deal is financed through a PPA agreement with Standard Solar, so the building owner is essentially paying for the new roof (good for 50+ years) during the 25-year PPA.

ESDEC rooftop solar mounting system

The ESDEC Flat-Fix

On the system side, available in the first time in the U.S., Holland-based ESDEC debuted its slick Flat-Fix commercial rooftop mounting system. The same lightweight design can be laid out in south-facing or east-west configurations and is built with one tool, keeping the SKUs at a minimum. The feet are adhered with glue (or a bolt if needed) and an optional ballast tray. The system is already proven but the team needed to make a few tweaks to launch in the U.S., mostly relating to cable management, all of which were cleverly designed like the rest of the system.

Remote C&I system design has never been easier thanks to Nearmap’s updates. Its digital surface and line of sight analysis produces a jaw-droppingly clear picture for 71 percent of the U.S. population that is updated 3 times per year. You can really tell the difference between obstruction or dirt, as well as accurately measure the pitch and dimensions of any surface. When combined with the newest version Aurora Solar’s software, Aurora estimates 10x performance upgrades for multi-megawatt, commercial-scale solar projects added with the ability to simulate the solar energy production of a PV system while designing, allowing real-time assessment of design choices and elimination of change orders. An enhanced “fill zone” functionality is also available to automatically optimize solar panel locations to maximize the number that fit within an available space.

6. The next big trend will emerge from the California solar mandate (and maybe it’s an old one?).

Consider a company like CertainTeed – been around for a long time, and didn’t have a lot new at its booth to discuss. Its solar products are focused mostly on roof-integrated options that are not as popular as traditional mounting + solar panels on an existing roof sold and installed by solar installers. But when all new homes in California are going to need to come with solar already on the roof, will builders and roofers favor something like this they can handle themselves? Or, consider SunFlare, a company with a flexible CIGs technology. In 2018 it seems like a niche product – can be installed on top of existing carports and other nontraditional areas, but it’s close to working with a high-end national homebuilder that liked its solar shingle because “it’s a roofing product, not a solar product,” thus allowing them to install new solar on a new house without contracting out. The president of ESDEC also mentioned that in Holland their mounting system is seen as so simple to install that HVAC companies are a big customer segment for them because they could easily add it to their service offering.

Will the mainstreaming of solar earlier in the building process end up cutting out companies and products that rule the day today? Maybe a wild thought, just remember to keep your hands and arms inside the solarcoaster at all times.

— Solar Builder magazine