Drinking Buddies: How to pair a beer with your next solar farm (and why)

Drinking Buddies photo 2

a pollinator-friendly solar farm designed and managed by Engie.

So, a solar developer and a beekeeper walk into a craft brewery … have you heard this one before? No? Then you need to chat with Rob Davis. He’s the director of the Center for Pollinators in Energy at Fresh Energy, a non-profit that promotes better vegetation on solar farms and pulls together partnerships to include bee apiaries as well.

“Whenever a solar farm is built on arable land, we want to make sure that we make productive use of that land,” Davis says, whose team has developed solar farm vegetation programs for more than 3,500 acres of projects in 10 states. “We want solar farms treated like rich soil that we’re borrowing from our grandkids, who will be inheriting it after that solar asset hits its end of life in 30 or 40 years.”

The main opponent here is simply the status quo. Vegetation is almost always significantly less than one percent of a total project budget.

“People just naturally think it’s just not important,” Davis says. “Often EPCs just want to do what they call throw and go mix just to fulfill their stormwater permit and then get on to the next job.”

Fresh Energy’s collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Lab is starting to produce evidence that thicker vegetation under and around solar farms creates a cooler micro climate, which then increases PV energy generation.

“For one, you have greater dust suppression,” Davis says. “Solar panel efficiency is significantly improved with cooler panels, but it’s also key for longevity. Anything we can use in the natural world, at a super low cost, to increase the efficiency and longevity of the panel is a worthy investment.”

Bee kind

Solar apiary

This apiary is owned and managed by Bare Honey. Photo: Dennis Schroeder/NREL InSPIRE

Smart use of land means more than just a focus on plants. Pollinator Friendly Solar in particular has been highlighted by the U.S. Department of Energy as a best practice, but often for the solar developer or EPC, the honey isn’t worth the bees, so to speak. This is where Fresh Energy comes in, doing all sorts of legwork to structure the partnerships and collaborations ahead of time.

“Imagine a dozen plates spinning on sticks, the classic circus trick, where you have to get them all spinning at the same time,” Davis says. “You want this solar farm to have flowering meadows. Okay, well, who provides the seeds and who plants them and who has the expertise? You go to the vegetation company, and they don’t know anything about solar so you bring them up to speed on solar. Then we go to the beekeepers and tell the beekeepers all the background, and then the beekeepers say, okay, but who’s going to buy the honey?”

To finally tie one recent bee apiary deal together, Davis swapped that last spinning plate for a pint glass. Craft breweries are great partners to pursue in these partnerships. Not only do craft breweries often have a sustainability story to tell, but they are also always in search of locally sourced ingredients, collaborations and community-minded programs. Sourcing honey from bee apiaries on solar farms check all of these boxes. Craft brewery partnerships also add cache to a solar project.

“Beer is broadly bipartisan and supported,” Davis notes. “It happens to be, I think, the product where someone can say they don’t really think about conservation, they don’t really think about clean energy, they don’t think about the whole supply chain, but they really like the beer, so let’s have some of this.”

pollinator friendly solar

A pollinator-friendly solar farm designed and managed by Pine Gate Renewables. The beekeeper pictured is John Jacob of Old Sol Apiaries.

Fresh Energy’s recent collaboration with 56 Brewing in Minnesota has produced Solarama Crush, which 56 Brewing is now promoting as Minnesota’s first solar beer — a double dry-hopped American IPA made with honey harvested from bee apiaries on flowering solar farms. Clean energy is literally considered an ingredient in the beer.

On the solar side, the apiary is outside the fence, so it’s more about the private landowner striking a deal with the beekeeper than it is about the solar company. Davis does see an opportunity for solar companies here too from a community relations standpoint — maybe an opportunity to procure that honey and make it available in branded jars. If nothing else, it helps tell a more impactful story when needed. Davis also says permit approval for a project is often easier for a pollinator-friendly site versus a turf grass or gravel site.

“Nobody has ever sampled honey from a coal-fired power plant,” Davis says. “But you can bring solar farm honey to a permit hearing and hand out samples to everyone and half the people are going back for more.”

We’ll drink to that.

— Solar Builder magazine

Drinking Buddies: How to pair a beer with your next solar farm (and why)

Drinking Buddies photo 2

a pollinator-friendly solar farm designed and managed by Engie.

So, a solar developer and a beekeeper walk into a craft brewery … have you heard this one before? No? Then you need to chat with Rob Davis. He’s the director of the Center for Pollinators in Energy at Fresh Energy, a non-profit that promotes better vegetation on solar farms and pulls together partnerships to include bee apiaries as well.

“Whenever a solar farm is built on arable land, we want to make sure that we make productive use of that land,” Davis says, whose team has developed solar farm vegetation programs for more than 3,500 acres of projects in 10 states. “We want solar farms treated like rich soil that we’re borrowing from our grandkids, who will be inheriting it after that solar asset hits its end of life in 30 or 40 years.”

The main opponent here is simply the status quo. Vegetation is almost always significantly less than one percent of a total project budget.

“People just naturally think it’s just not important,” Davis says. “Often EPCs just want to do what they call throw and go mix just to fulfill their stormwater permit and then get on to the next job.”

Fresh Energy’s collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Lab is starting to produce evidence that thicker vegetation under and around solar farms creates a cooler micro climate, which then increases PV energy generation.

“For one, you have greater dust suppression,” Davis says. “Solar panel efficiency is significantly improved with cooler panels, but it’s also key for longevity. Anything we can use in the natural world, at a super low cost, to increase the efficiency and longevity of the panel is a worthy investment.”

Bee kind

Solar apiary

This apiary is owned and managed by Bare Honey. Photo: Dennis Schroeder/NREL InSPIRE

Smart use of land means more than just a focus on plants. Pollinator Friendly Solar in particular has been highlighted by the U.S. Department of Energy as a best practice, but often for the solar developer or EPC, the honey isn’t worth the bees, so to speak. This is where Fresh Energy comes in, doing all sorts of legwork to structure the partnerships and collaborations ahead of time.

“Imagine a dozen plates spinning on sticks, the classic circus trick, where you have to get them all spinning at the same time,” Davis says. “You want this solar farm to have flowering meadows. Okay, well, who provides the seeds and who plants them and who has the expertise? You go to the vegetation company, and they don’t know anything about solar so you bring them up to speed on solar. Then we go to the beekeepers and tell the beekeepers all the background, and then the beekeepers say, okay, but who’s going to buy the honey?”

To finally tie one recent bee apiary deal together, Davis swapped that last spinning plate for a pint glass. Craft breweries are great partners to pursue in these partnerships. Not only do craft breweries often have a sustainability story to tell, but they are also always in search of locally sourced ingredients, collaborations and community-minded programs. Sourcing honey from bee apiaries on solar farms check all of these boxes. Craft brewery partnerships also add cache to a solar project.

“Beer is broadly bipartisan and supported,” Davis notes. “It happens to be, I think, the product where someone can say they don’t really think about conservation, they don’t really think about clean energy, they don’t think about the whole supply chain, but they really like the beer, so let’s have some of this.”

pollinator friendly solar

A pollinator-friendly solar farm designed and managed by Pine Gate Renewables. The beekeeper pictured is John Jacob of Old Sol Apiaries.

Fresh Energy’s recent collaboration with 56 Brewing in Minnesota has produced Solarama Crush, which 56 Brewing is now promoting as Minnesota’s first solar beer — a double dry-hopped American IPA made with honey harvested from bee apiaries on flowering solar farms. Clean energy is literally considered an ingredient in the beer.

On the solar side, the apiary is outside the fence, so it’s more about the private landowner striking a deal with the beekeeper than it is about the solar company. Davis does see an opportunity for solar companies here too from a community relations standpoint — maybe an opportunity to procure that honey and make it available in branded jars. If nothing else, it helps tell a more impactful story when needed. Davis also says permit approval for a project is often easier for a pollinator-friendly site versus a turf grass or gravel site.

“Nobody has ever sampled honey from a coal-fired power plant,” Davis says. “But you can bring solar farm honey to a permit hearing and hand out samples to everyone and half the people are going back for more.”

We’ll drink to that.

— Solar Builder magazine

Seven trends from our 2019 Solar Inverter Buyer’s Guide

CPS remote fleet commissioning

Commercial inverter manufacturers like CPS America are easing installation and O&M with remote fleet commissioning.

We asked every inverter manufacturer to tell us about their latest and greatest products for our 2019 Solar Inverter Buyer’s Guide. What came back was a range of innovations from the most powerful microinverter on the market to the latest utility-scale string technology. At this point, solar inverter spec sheets all seem fairly comparable. The real differentiators come in monitoring and service options, storage capabilities and grid functionality.

Future proofing

The move to incorporate storage is being driven more and more by a combo of improved battery economics and utility rate changes. The symbiotic pairing with solar is just too hard to ignore.

“Residential PV installations are including batteries more and more often, especially in places like Hawaii where exporting PV power is often not allowed and in California where time-of-use rates shift the value of electricity more into the evening,” says Paul Dailey, director of product management for OutBack Power. “Additionally, existing PV customers in areas with frequent power outages are asking for retrofit backup systems.”

“Utility companies around the country are killing net metering and thus grid-tie-only inverters,” says Tom Brennan, engineering manager at Sol-Ark. “They want to charge three times what they will pay out for the solar power produced. The only solution is solar + storage to keep what is produced, consume it at night and use the grid as backup to solar. ”

Today most off-grid systems are still installed using lead-acid batteries. They are proven and cost effective, but less efficient, and over the long-term lithium has economic advantages. A growing number of off-grid systems are installing LiFePO4 lithium batteries as an alternative to both wet and advanced (gel, AGM) lead-acid. Although this type of battery initially is more expensive than lead-acid, over the long run they can be more economical due to high cycle life and superior storage capabilities.

“Perhaps most importantly, lithium batteries can operate without being fully charged and can actually do better when they are not held at a very high state of charge for long periods, unlike lead-acid batteries,” says Mark Cerasuolo, director of marketing at Morningstar, which just debuted a new off-grid-focused solar + storage inverter for the lithium battery age. “Therefore, residential off-grid customers never need to worry about running their generator to top off the batteries like they have in the past, further reducing the run time of their generators — and drastically lowering fuel and maintenance costs, as well as noise and emissions. System operators that use lithium batteries report fuel savings of 75 percent and more compared to running a generator for prime power.”

CPS separable wireboxes

Commercial inverter manufacturers like CPS America are easing installation and O&M with separable wireboxes.

EV and smart home upgrades

Less talked about, but possibly more relevant countrywide, is an inverter’s flexibility to incorporate electric vehicle charging.

“This is particularly relevant to the PV market as we see a significant overlap between the EV and PV target market,” says Lior Handelsman, co-founder, VP of marketing and product strategy with SolarEdge. “With many homes expected to have an EV in the coming years, it makes sense for anyone installing a PV system to install an EV charging inverter or at least an EV-ready inverter.”

SolarEdge is taking another strategic step by transitioning its inverters into comprehensive smart energy managers.

“Consumers do not just want to place solar energy on their roof and then forget about it; they want to control how they use their energy,” he says. “Since the inverter already manages solar production, energy storage, grid interaction and consumption, it is well positioned to evolve into the home’s smart energy manager. By integrating smart energy verticals into the inverter hardware and firmware, such as our EV charging solar inverter, installers and homeowners alike receive more value.”

SolarEdge EV charger/solar inverter

SolarEdge offers the only EV charger/solar inverter on the market.

You are buying service, support

More than ever, commercial inverter manufacturers are focusing on improving the user experience with installer friendly designs, improved user interfaces and more effective customer service.

“Installer friendly features like lifting handles and a spacious wiring box allow electricians to install the product safely and in a time-efficient manner,” says Michael Nieman, senior applications engineer for Yaskawa Solectria Solar.

Integrated fused combiner and AC/DC disconnects also streamline the installation process.

String inverters keep scaling up

As the industry has matured, the drawbacks of central inverters — a larger footprint, expensive maintenance contracts, higher O&M expenses, large sections of arrays suffering from downtimes, etc. — have become more apparent. For these reasons, decentralized architecture with string inverters and module-level optimization has been gaining market share in the commercial PV sector in recent years.

But even if actual central inverters are less popular, deploying string inverters on a skid for a more centralized design architecture still makes sense for some sites.

“The design architecture of a site can make a big difference in EBOS cost,” says Ed Heacox, GM at CPS America. “Sometimes a distributed approach is better, other times centralized makes better financial sense. Evaluate the different designs using your actual costs to determine which method is best for the project and site. Beyond the initial financial implications of these two architectures is the O&M aspect. For very large sites, a centralized design can streamline O&M by clustering the inverters in one or more groups.”

More connectivity needs more security

The increased quantity of smaller inverters has made inverter communications even more integral to effective plant commissioning and control. This means simplicity, but also an increased focus on cyber security.

“We engineered our new XGI 1000 and XGI 1500 inverter lines with security baked in, not layered on,” says Emily Hwang, applications engineering manager at Yaskawa Solectria Solar. “While on-site, users can view inverter information from their smart device via WPA2 encryption. The user interface is password protected and can limit the accessibility of control parameters to only qualified individuals. In addition, each inverter comes equipped with a firewall and uses SSL encryption to ensure that the connection between web server and browser remain secure.”

The YSS team is also promoting the idea of hardware security, believing it is important to have inverter lines engineered and manufactured in the U.S.

OutBack is taking a standards-based approach to communications and data security, working with the SunSpec Alliance, IEEE and other standards bodies to ensure that our platforms are secure while remaining interoperable with the devices and parties they legitimately need to share data with.

Don’t miss our Solar + Storage issue in July — subscribe to Solar Builder magazine (print or digital) for FREE today

Approaches to Phase 3 vary

Rule 21 Phase 3 is all about allowing utilities and grid operators to leverage many of the grid supporting and communication requirements developed in previous phases. While the exact requirements and date for Rule 21 Phase 3 are still TBD, eight functions have been recommended by the Smart Inverter Working Group to be included in Rule 21 as mandatory or optional capabilities for all inverter-based DER systems.

“Installers should become familiar with the implementation schedule and ensure that they are specifying products that can meet the requirements. Otherwise, they may be denied interconnection,” Dailey says.

Similar to Phase 1, testing and certification requirements will be needed before Phase 3 functions can have mandatory implementation requirements. Mandatory implementation requirements typically begin 12 months after approval of testing and certification requirements.

“Manufacturers will ship inverters with functions left in a default state. Installers should be prepared for the need to implement specific settings and/or functions on a site or project specific basis. The local utilities and grid operators may request modification to the settings that would require the installer to adjust during commissioning,” Nieman notes.

For Rule 21 Phase 3, SolarEdge is providing an expanded feature set for smart inverters like data monitoring, remote connection/disconnection and max power controls.

“These will start to become the new industry standard,” Handelsman says. All SolarEdge inverters sold in California will be certified for IEEE 2030.5, while already shipped SolarEdge inverters can be updated for compliance.

While this is a necessary step for onboarding an abundance of distributed PV onto our grid, at least one inverter manufacturer fundamentally disagrees with Phase 3 because of the economic implications for individual solar + storage systems.

“Utilities want to reprogram your inverter and use your batteries at any time to support power surges,” Brennan says. “Not sure what they will pay you for it, if anything. And there is also the potential for cyber hacking of the system. Sol-Ark is just not a fan.”

The U.S. veteran team of engineers at Sol-Ark may have considered security more than any other manufacturer in the building of its inverter hardware from the standpoint that it can survive solar flares or an EMP attack. What is Sol-Ark doing for cyber security? “We unplug the Wi-Fi connection,” Brennan says. “That is the ultimate security.”

Partnerships add value

Being the connective hub of a system puts inverter companies in position to come up with cool partnerships that streamline costs, improve performance and introduce new user-facing functionality. Here’s some examples.

CPS is the first inverter company that also has a bankable, large scale PV module offering. CPS’ sister company is Astronergy, a Bloomberg Tier 1 rated PV panel provider. CPS is able to bundle PV panels and inverters — orders, delivery, support, warranty — all from one $8 billion company.

Fronius is one of many inverter companies partnering with the SunSpec Alliance, which defined an open industry standard for communication between modules, inverters and string combiners to support module level rapid shutdown requirements. “We not only believe that industry standards have economic advantages for distributors and installers, but that they also ensure better safety,” says Richard Baldinger, director of marketing with Fronius.

Morningstar’s Energy Storage Partner program (ESP) is an ongoing collaboration with selected premium battery manufacturers with advanced technologies/chemistries. The ESP verifies, confirms and thoroughly documents recommended charge settings along with best practices, to provide system designers and installers with as close to a plug-and-play solution as possible when configuring energy storage systems to best use specific batteries.

SolarEdge recently announced that it was one of the first companies to collaborate with Google to integrate EV charging with the Google Assistant in order to make EV charging simpler for consumers. The integration allows consumers to tell the Google Assistant to start and stop EV charging. SolarEdge plans to add more functionality to its Google Assistant commands, including inquiring about charging status, checking average miles charged in the charging session and pre-schedule charging.

Yaskawa Solectria Solar has partnered with Alencon to provide a repowering solution for legacy 600 V PV arrays. Customers can replace legacy and underperforming 600 V inverters with the latest inverter and power electronic technology to return these systems to operation.

Sungrow has partnered with several third-party monitoring and controls companies (NorCal controls, Locus and AlsoEnergy are all well known, trusted brands in the industry) to produce off-the shelf solutions that can be used in combination with its products. This gives customers the ease of doing business and designing projects around its products.

Chris Crowell is the managing editor of Solar Builder.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar System Wire Management Buyer’s Guide 2019

hand holding wires

We humans have a lot in common with wires. We are vessels of energy and information that need grounding for stability. When put in situations that best suit our skillsets, we thrive. We are also prone to getting tangled up, stuck in our own way. We can be fragile. We don’t like the heat! Or rodents! And yes, like it or not, our appearances do matter.

This Wire Management Buyer’s Guide is here to help us humans have a better working relationship with our friend the wire. We asked every wire management expert we know for advice on avoiding common wire management issues, eBOS trends that are saving time and money and which new products solar installers should consider for certain applications.

Here’s our 2019 Solar Inverter Buyer’s Guide, if you missed it.

CAB Solar Cable Management

CAB Solar Cable Management

Key feature: Saves time, money by simplifying large-scale installs

CAB Solar Cable Management has a new, patented Integrated Grounding system. It utilizes copper composite messenger wire in place of the standard system’s galvanized, and it can act as the EGC and GEC. The new system uses grounding hardware on the L-brackets that allows them to bond the messenger wire to the pier and eliminate jumpers at each pier. This system saves both labor time and money. It has proven to be a huge benefit. It is safety listed by Intertek to UL 2703, and the L-brackets are UL 467 compliant. Engineering reports on the system and installation best practices are available.

Shoals Big Lead Assembly

Shoals Big Lead Assembly

Key feature: Eliminates combiner boxes

The BLA is an above-ground wiring solution that eliminates traditional combiner boxes and issues related to blown fuses that are commonly experienced in operation. By utilizing a BLA trunk system and disconnect boxes, installers can reduce their installation costs by more than 50 percent with this pre-fabricated solution. Owners and developers also benefit from the BLA system as there are significantly fewer points of failure throughout the system, reducing lifetime O&M costs.

Heyco HEYClip

Heyco HEYClip

Key feature: Cables tucked inside the module frame

The Heyco HEYClip RevRunner Cable Clip is a 304 stainless steel PV module clip that holds up to 2x cables that are between 0.20 and 0.33 in. in diameter and clips onto module frames that are between 0.06 and 0.13 in. thick. When used on panels within that range, these clips survive a 15-lb pull-off test and have superior side-to-side cable retention. The main benefit of this clip is that it positions the PV cables so that they are tucked up and underneath the PV module frame — which means they are out of sight for an aesthetically pleasing installation.

Solar Snake Max

Solar Snake Max

Key feature: Quick, code-compliant utility-grade cable separation

Solar Snake Max is Snake Tray’s new patented cable management system for high-voltage, utility-grade installations. The easily snapped together elements allow for code-compliant cable separation that can cut construction cycle times in half. Cables install with snap together components, no tools required or field fabrication. Solar Snake Max quickly mounts to any style of vertical pilings or poles and maintains code compliant separation of power cables up to 2 KV. Snake Tray products are manufactured in the United States.

Heyco Tite Liquid Tight Cordgrips

Heyco Tite Liquid Tight Cordgrips

Key feature: Designed for the Enphase Q Cable

Two new cordgrips now accommodate the Enphase Q Cable — M3231GCZ (1/2 in. NPT) and M3234GDA-SM (3/4 in. NPT). The 1/2-in. version provides liquid-tight entry for one Enphase Q Cable (0.24 in. x .38 in.) The 3/4-in. version provides liquid-tight entry for up to two Enphase Q Cables and an additional .130-in. diameter hole for a No. 8 solid grounding cable. The 3/4-in. version utilizes Heyco’s skinned-over technology, so any unused holes will retain a liquid-tight seal.

Stäubli Reusable Sealing Caps

Stäubli Reusable Sealing Caps

Key feature: Protecting unmated connections

MC4 connectors are rated for IP68 when mated. When they are un-mated, MC4 connectors need to be protected from the environment, such as moist, dirt and even insects to ensure the long-term reliability and safety of the MC4 connectors. This reusable sealing cap by Stäubli will protect unmated MC4 connectors from moisture or dirt during installation or repair. This way, you don’t have to worry about the reliability of the connector. Other situations when a sealing cap can be useful: leaving a job unfinished until the next day, unexpected rain delay and repairing an old system.

TE Connectivity’s SOLARLOK PV Edge

TE Connectivity’s SOLARLOK PV Edge

Key feature: Junction box mounted on the edge of a PV panel

Glass-to-glass photovoltaic cells continue to increase in efficiency, fall in price and grow in popularity. TE Connectivity’s new SOLARLOK PV Edge, a decentralized junction box that can be attached to glass-to-glass photovoltaic panels without drilling holes, aligns to this new market. This small junction box can be positioned right on the edge of the glass to prevent shade falling on the cells on the rear side of the panel. The junction box has a flap design, which protects the foils while facilitating attachment to the PV panel. The flaps on the box are available in different shoulder heights to fit panels of diverse thicknesses. Other features of the new junction box include a lid with cooling ribs to improve heat dissipation, elimination of X-connect to facilitate layouts and shorter foil lengths and connections.

Wiley ACC-F4F Clip

Wiley ACC-F4F Clip

Key feature: Two attachment points, perfect for trackers

The WILEY ACC-F4F wire management clip is made of corrosion resistant 304 stainless steel, which makes them durable, long lasting and reliable for all environments. The ACC-F4F is easy to install and slides 90° onto module frames and purlins of various thicknesses. Two attachment points make this clip a perfect solution for trackers and high vibration or high wind applications. The ACC-F4F accommodates 1 to 4 PV cables up to 8.0 mm in diameter. Edges on the clip are rolled up and away from the wires to give additional protection to the cables against insulation damage.

SolarBOS AC Combiner

SolarBOS AC Combiner

Key feature: Cost effective AC combining

SolarBOS AC Combiners provide a safe and cost effective alternative to AC breaker panels. Individual fused inputs facilitate string inverter output aggregation. Incorporating bi-directional fuses eliminates the need for expensive breakers that must be back-feed capable. Fuses also offer a high interrupt rating as standard, commonly 200kAIC, while a breaker’s cost increases drastically as the interrupt rating increases. SolarBOS AC Combiners support all string inverters and are highly configurable to fit any application. They are listed to UL-508A and rated for 600VAC. Available options include integrated output or input disconnect switch(es), transient surge suppression, auxiliary mini breakers, neutral terminals, etc. Custom solutions are available upon request.

Solar Raceway

Solar Raceway

Key feature: Aesthetics plus snap-in cover

Solar Raceway is a 100 percent lay-in system that quickly snaps together and allows for testing of continuity within the system. Once the wiring is complete, simply snap the cover over the tray. The Solar Raceway increases installation speed and provides an aesthetic appeal that adds to the solar installation. Inspectors can effectively assess the system and allow for installers to move on to their next project. Solar Raceway’s applications include: commercial roofs, carports, ground mounts, solar trackers and residential installs. The product is available in both aluminum and PVC.

HellermannTyton Locking Clamp

HellermannTyton Locking Clamp

Key feature: Allows for one-handed installation

The Locking Clamp is ideal for fastening wire and cable bundles to panels. Its unique fir tree design holds tightly in pre-stamped hole sizes from 9×12 mm to 9×14 mm. The locking clamp mechanism dynamically fits various bundle sizes, while an integrated cable tie saddle allows installers to add additional cable runs. The clamp is manufactured from an impact-modified Polyamide 6.6 material for increased flexibility, heat resistance and UV stabilization to deliver years of dependable performance. It is easy to install and operate with a single hand and does not require tools, saving time and labor costs.

Nine Fasteners NFI-Hanger

Nine Fasteners NFI-Hanger

Key feature: Opening/closing metal hanger

Nine Fasteners’ newest product, NFI-Hanger, was designed specifically for large-scale ground-mount solar installations. Made in the United States, this wire form simply slides into a small hole in the panel frame and is capable of holding 20+ wires at a time. Produced out of hard-drawn galvanized steel, the NFI-Hanger is able to be opened and closed. The NFI-Hanger is durable in all climates and is currently undergoing testing to be certified to UL standard 1565 for “Positioning Devices within a Solar Installation.”

EcoMount Inverter Kit

EcoMount Inverter Kit

Key feature: Minimizes inverter footprint

Ecolibrium’s EcoMount Inverter Kit is a ballasted rooftop inverter mounting solution that simplifies and streamlines rooftop inverter deployment. Modular design minimizes the inverter rooftop footprint, allowing installers to meet NEC 690.12 rapid shutdown requirements without decreasing module density. The 1 and 2 inverter kits can be combined to fit project configurations. EcoMount is compatible with all major inverter brands. The system provides flexibility and simplifies logistics and installation.


Trend Watch

Labor Savings

“eBOS is becoming the most expensive component of a system, and labor is a huge part of that. Any time EPCs can prefab work in the shop when it comes to wire harnesses or combiner box work, it saves money out in the field where mistakes are more likely, and labor is almost always more expensive. But designing wire management components that take an assembly line approach to the field helps save on labor and reduce error during installation.” — Nick Korth, HellermannTyton

Longer AC Wire Runs

“Installers are running PV wire directly to the inverter location due to rapid shutdown requirements and the wiring advantage inherent in high DC voltage systems. Mounting the inverter next to the array is shortening DC wire runs and increasing AC wire runs. Installers are meeting this challenge and finding some advantages in eBOS and installation efficiency. Inverter mounting products are designed to enable the inverter to be mounted close to the array and cable tray to bring PV wire directly to the inverter.” — Jonah Coles, Ecolibrium Solar

More Than Four Wires

Solar installers are gravitating toward practices that result in higher numbers of PV wires running in parallel paths. This results in the need for wire management solutions that can accommodate four or more wires for simplified installation. Increasing the number of wires running in parallel is not a problem as long as wire management solutions are used to support the wires at proper interval distances.” — Sarah Parsons, Wiley.

Steel Clips are Back

“Several years ago, installers and contractors were shying away from stainless steel clips, not so much because of the cost compared to a cable tie, but because installers felt the stainless steel clips had too sharp of an edge to be used with PV cable. There were concerns these installations would experience some cable abrasion over an extended period of time, so installers simply didn’t use them. Fast-forward to today, and almost every PV module clip manufacturer ‘coins’ or ‘tumbles’ the edges of the clips to mitigate any abrasion. With that issue removed, PV module clips have great panel retention and accommodate a variety of cable diameters, making them an excellent choice in wire management — most also come with a 20-year warranty, something you won’t see with a standard UV rated cable tie.” — Tom Marsden, Heyco.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar PV plant maintenance white paper: Optimizing Solar PV Plant Performance with AutoMow

automow solar plant

The following white paper was sent our way by By Bri Bruce, marketing manager for AutoMow.

Though the topic is often overlooked in comparison to other plant concerns, vegetation control is an important consideration for utility-scale PV plant operation and maintenance. Unchecked vegetation growth can lead to shading of the panels, which in turn decreases the plant’s productivity. Even a small amount of shading can significantly reduce the performance of the entire solar photovoltaic system. Loss of generated energy equates to loss of income for the solar plant owner or operator, so vegetation maintenance cannot be underestimated.

Managing vegetation can be an ongoing and expensive task; however, AutoMow slope mowers by Spider were designed as a cost-effective method to keep solar PV vegetation under control. AutoMow not only makes solar PV plant mowing easier, more efficient, and safer, but the 2SGS model is specifically designed for solar vegetation maintenance, helping PV plant owners and operators maximize the lifetime value of the plant.

This white paper provides a brief summary on the benefits of maintaining a solar plant with AutoMow.

Mowing, Reimagined

automow solar vegetation maintenance

AutoMow’s innovative mowers allow operators to mow where traditional mowers can’t. AutoMow significantly cuts time and resources spent on mowing the hard-to-reach areas of a solar PV plant.

The ability to control the mower remotely via a radio remote control allows for safe and comfortable mowing from a distance, giving the operator a full view of the mower and increasing operator safety by placing the operator away from noise, vibrations, fumes, and potential dangers posed by PV plants. Traditional tractor driven or zero-turn ride-on mowers can leave the operator with a significant blind spot, increasing the risk of damaging PV modules or plant wiring.

A specially engineered drive system allows omnidirectional 360-degree mowing in four-wheel drive, offering superior, uncomplicated maneuverability. AutoMow mowers are gentle on terrain and eliminate erosion on slopes. Moreover, its lightweight aluminum alloy design allows for low fuel consumption, resulting in low emissions. Machines can also be equipped with biodegradable fluids that are often required when maintaining ecologically sensitive areas.

At 5mph, and with a four-hour runtime, the 48-inch cutting and mulching deck of an AutoMow slope mower can cut 2.16 acres per hour, or 95,000 square feet, with an approximate 10% overlap. The mowers boast low downtime when refueling, and machines can be serviced in the field with a simple tool kit.

One AutoMow mower can replace multiple specialized mowers, posing an economic solution by reducing man hours and specialized machinery. Operators can immediately realize a 10X reduction in man hours, with several reports exceeding this estimate.

Deployment and transportation

AutoMow machines can be deployed quickly and easily without the need for a large equipment trailer. They can easily be transported using a pick-up truck, van, or small trailer, increasing mobility between solar sites.

Design

Because of the difficulty in operating most mowers within PV plant configurations, the Spider 2SGS model was designed specifically for solar plants. It features a lower profile, making it ideal for maintaining the turf beneath and around PV panels. By using mowing equipment that fits under the array, plant owners can eliminate any damage that would otherwise be inflicted on the PV system by traditional mowing methods.

The built-in mulching deck of the mower is designed to drop debris down, rather than to the sides of the mower. The deep, hallow mulching mowing cavity of the machine nearly eliminates the risk of rocks being kicked out and damaging modules.

It can replace multiple brush cutters or one piece of heavy machinery—at substantially lower operating costs.

Benefits of mowing and grass

automow spider mowing

Studies have shown that frequent mowing—more than once a year—is the best vegetation control technique. Frequent mowing prevents unwanted plant species from sprouting new seeds and promotes desired plant species to become well established.

If left unmanaged, vegetation can shade solar panels as well as increase the risks of tracker failure, pest infestation, and significant increases in service time. Excess amounts of dry vegetation also pose a fire hazard if a spark is created by plant equipment during a ground fault.

Some PV plant owners argue that the placement of gravel beneath panels will eliminate some risks. While laying gravel is a viable strategy, it is more expensive than planting grass and dust from the gravel can interfere with the panels’ power production—and dusty panels will require frequent washings.

Grass is cheaper to lay than gravel and is more environmentally acceptable. Grass can also improve solar production by reducing dust from gravel and cooling the ground around panels.

Herbicides

Mowing eliminates the need for herbicides, keeping harmful chemicals out of the environment.
However, the use of herbicides varies by geographic location and is permitted only where allowed by state and federal law. Mowing may be the most available means to maintain vegetation.

Replanting

Reports show that having grass on site is beneficial—and even promote the planting of grass where there is none.

During PV plant construction, grading and sloping is sometimes necessary. Grading makes installation easier while sloping helps with proper drainage. Vegetation is removed during both these processes, which increases the chance of soil erosion and can compromise the integrity, operation, and structure of the PV system. Research conducted by the US National Renewable Energy laboratory (NREL) suggests that “revegetation is not only possible but can achieve ground cover sufficient to control erosion.”

If a site is replanted, low-growing grasses are encouraged, as they prevent shading, are more manageable for maintenance, and minimize fuel loads for potential wildfires.

Conclusion

AutoMow and Spider have partnered to offer a niche product that not only realizes the needs of solar O&M providers, but continues to innovate its mowing capabilities based on the evolving technology of the solar industry. Vegetation control should be an important aspect of PV plant operation and maintenance, and integrating AutoMow into your vegetation management strategy is an efficient, cost-effective solution that eliminates the risks posed by traditional solar array mowing methods.

SOURCES:
Brenda Beatty, Jordan Macknick, James McCall and Genevieve Braus. “Native Vegetation Performance under a Solar PV Array at the National Wind.” NREL Technical Report NREL, May 2017.

Ryan Nielsen, Lynsey Tibbs and Tamara Waldmann. “Solar PV Vegetation Management Strategies.” New Energy Update.

— Solar Builder magazine