Setting an example: Three ways for U.S. jurisdictions to make solar energy a priority

sun shining through

In our cover feature for Sept/Oct, we look at the inefficiencies in local permitting and interconnection processes that are holding back solar energy adoption in pockets across the country. Check out the full feature here. On the flip side of the issues noted are communities making an effort to revise out-dated wording and ineffective practices, guided in large part by SolSmart, a U.S. Department of Energy funded recognition program for communities that have taken steps to reduce solar costs and barriers and promote solar adoption. Here are three of our favorite examples.

Buying Power

Goshen, Ind., achieved the SolSmart Gold designation and installed 103 watts of solar PV per capita, placing it ahead of places like Sacramento, Denver and San Francisco in 2017. The big hit here was organizing a Solarize Northern Indiana group-buy to bring down both grid-connected and off-grid system costs. The average cost of an array under Solarize is $2.53 per watt for a basic 5-kW system, compared to about $2.80 per watt on the open market, according to a report by Solarize. (Note: Indiana halted all of this momentum at the state level by ending net metering completely.)


Collaboration Nation

SolSmart cities seeing the most success are often clustered and collaborative. In Illinois, the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus (MMC) advised 15 municipalities and counties and successfully led them all to Gold, Silver or Bronze SolSmart designations. As of the spring of 2018, this represented the largest regional cohort of designees in the country, tying Illinois with Colorado for the largest total number of SolSmart designations (18 total statewide).

Key to this process were bi-weekly phone calls with all communities and a Dropbox system arranged to share resources. This way everyone could get on the same page and share best practices while still tailoring programs to address local nuances. The reps from Schaumburg, Ill., rewrote zoning codes to create clear solar guidelines based on communication during the SolSmart designation phase that also met community goals and aesthetic standards.

Beach Park and Schaumburg achieved SolSmart Gold and Silver designations by making online solar permitting checklists available, allowing solar by-right in their zoning codes, training permitting and inspection staff on solar, and creating a streamlined process to approve solar permits more quickly. Schaumburg and Beach Park also received points for informing its residents of local incentives, solar installers and financing options.


Starting from square one

Right at the southern tip of Texas at the Mexican border is the city of Brownsville. The population is around 200,000 people in the low to moderate income bracket, emphasis on the low. The community was in such a dire spot and in need of a boost that federal organizations from FEMA to the EPA to the DOE were brought in to help.

“We looked holistically at what can we do to improve overall and become more resilient,” said David Licon Jr., an engineer for the City of Brownsville. “Solar was always an idea here. We thought we could help [the low-income community] out if we could get the ball rolling, dispel the illusions around solar and maybe help some of our citizens struggling with that high energy bill each month — make things more sustainable in the long haul.”

Brownsville could check no boxes on the early adopter SolSmart checklist — nothing in its zoning ordinance, and no real way to get through permitting — so they started with basics. The first step was getting on the same page with the three utility companies in town.

“We were fortunate our utilities came to the table to talk about it. That’s a must,” Licon said. “We can only make suggestions, so that relationship paid dividends to get everyone on the same page.”
This led to the utilities all putting standardized applications online while working toward a three- to five-day turnaround.

The city’s zoning ordinances now allowing “by right accessory use,” which limits the number of reviews from submission to installation. The city also created a permitting process for solar so that it goes through the appropriate reviews and isn’t a slow case-by-case process avoids run-around between city and utility company.

“The next thing as we progressed forward, is communication,” Licon said. “Once we told the public what we wanted to do we have had nothing but support. Once we put a sticker on our website asking if people wanted solar, we started getting calls the next day. We are pushing. We don’t want to just facilitate; we want our own skin in the game.”

In the past year, Brownsville has seen a 200 to 300 percent growth in solar installs compared to previous year. That’s from a small number, but it’s a start and it’s a direct result from city initiatives. Licon says the next focus is vetting the solar companies coming into the area. “What guidelines do we need to protect homeowners from fly-by-night contractors? If we get momentum we don’t want people coming in to scam.”

Not a Solar Builder subscriber? WTF? It’s free! Click here to fix that

— Solar Builder magazine

Why solar is a ray of hope for struggling retail industry

Coast Citrus Union City

The retail industry is facing challenging times. Business Insider reported that electronics, grocery stores, department stores and drug stores are among the sectors threatened by online retailers, such as Amazon. Businesses that were considered “too big to fail” such as Toys “R” Us, Payless and Radio Shack are among the 300-plus companies that filed for bankruptcy within the last year. This makes it more important than ever to control operating expenses, find ways to drive additional revenue and create a competitive difference. One of the ways that many businesses are achieving these goals is with renewable energy initiatives, and even more specifically, solar.

The US has added more solar power than any other type of electricity in 2018. A recent SEIA report noted that non-residential solar, a category used when companies like AT&T and Nestle switch their electricity source to commercial solar power, was the second largest area of growth. Fortune 500 companies have increased their demand for renewable energy, fulfilling sustainability goals and taking advantage of lower solar panel prices, stronger financial incentives and ambitious state-level clean energy programs and mandates. This has trickled down, where now many smaller to medium-sized retailers are embracing solar energy.

Going green means making green

Retailers have a lot to gain by switching to solar energy. In New Jersey, Solar Renewable Energy Credits allow businesses to sell energy to electric generators that can translate into significant sums of money for building owners. Plus, companies are eligible for income tax credits, and a bonus on system depreciation. Other states, including New York, offer strong solar rebate programs.

In some states (NY, MA and soon NJ), malls and large retailers with significant roof space, have the opportunity to generate additional revenue by selling excess energy to the community via a community solar program. Malls are uniquely positioned to benefit even further, given the ability to strike owner/tenant deals, selling excess power to its retail tenants at a discount to market rates. Under all structures, going solar gives the property owner a competitive and promotable advantage to attract new tenants. In addition, retailers have a great brand story to tell the public, attracting positive press regarding their sustainability initiatives. The greening of the property is a newsworthy upgrade that sets a business apart from local and global competitors.

RELATED: Tips for planning your next retail PV project

Malls and large retailers, typically with significant roof space, have the opportunity to generate additional revenue by selling excess energy to the community via a community solar program. Malls are uniquely positioned to benefit even further, given the ability to strike owner/tenant deals, selling excess power to its retail tenants at a discount to market rates. Under all structures, going solar has many benefits, providing the property owner with a competitive and promotable advantage to attract new tenants. In addition, retailers have a great brand story to tell the public, attracting positive press regarding their sustainability initiatives. The greening of the property is a newsworthy upgrade that sets a business apart from local and global competitors.

What sites make sense?

Solar energy isn’t necessarily the best fit for every retailer. The ideal property will have a larger roof space, typically 15,000 square feet or more. If roof size is an issue, another option is to install the panels in a large, adjacent field or unused parking area. Installing a solar system is also a good time to replace HVAC units and even the entire roof.

RELATED: Protection Plan: Everything you need to know to protect a commercial roof during a PV installation

If you have been considering switching, now is a great time to pull the trigger. Solar panel pricing is low, there are the aforementioned financial incentives and ambitious state-level clean energy programs and mandates, along with new laws for system depreciation.

Switching to solar panels can be time-consuming, so it’s best to assign a sustainability committee internally and regardless use a solar advisor that can help navigate the process from start to finish. Solar brokers are agnostic when it comes to vendors and help to avoid delays and anticipate installation issues.

SolarKal, a commercial solar adviser, was named the winner in New York State’s 76 West Clean Energy Competition. They help companies navigate the transition to solar, from the first site visit to the final installation.

— Solar Builder magazine

Massachusetts bill passes to stop Eversource demand charge but doesn’t address net metering

massachusetts solar storage goals

Not sure how many more times I can use this photo.

Massachusetts lawmakers passed An Act to Advance Clean Energy yesterday that will pretty much do what it says, with one really important victory for the solar industry, and one potential setback. The victory was a call for Eversource to revise the demand charge it tried to impose (this was the main focus of the legislation heading in).

“Thank you to lawmakers in the House and Senate for acting to reject anti-consumer demand charges and ensuring homeowners and residents can continue to invest in solar energy,” stated Evan Dube, a Senior Policy Director with Sunrun and spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice. “Massachusetts has become the latest state to stop mandatory punitive demand charges, which have been rejected virtually every time proposed across the country. State policy-makers showed tremendous leadership to maintain fair, commonsense billing methods that are good for consumers and support the growth of solar in the state.”

Notably absent from the revise legislation was anything about raising the state’s net metering cap. This concerns a bunch of solar advocates in the state because it has been nearly two years since the net metering cap for private and community shared projects in National Grid’s service territory was hit, and now caps have been hit in two other utility service areas slamming the brakes on hun-dreds of solar projects in 230 cities and towns.

RELATED: The end of net metering? Report sums up movement to new solar compensation plans

Adding to this issue is the uncertainty around the start and details of the state’s new incentive program – the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program, which will now be the only driver of market growth for the solar industry, leaving some municipal and business cus-tomers that want to put solar on their own roof, unable to do it in much of the Commonwealth.

“While it helpfully clarifies the structure for new charges for solar customers, there remains uncertainty in the Commonwealth’s solar market due to caps on net metering that have been hit,” said NECEC Execu-tive Vice President Janet Gail Besser. “Overall this legislation is a positive step forward and will spark more growth in the clean energy economy Massachusetts has built over the last decade.”

A quick summation of all the clean energy policies in the act:

  • Renewable Portfolio Standard – Raises the RPS by increasing the annual RPS growth rate to 2% until 2029 and then to 1% thereafter, increasing the requirements from 25% to 35% in 2030 and from 35% to 45% in 2040.
  • Solar – Addresses the unfair and inefficient mandatory residential demand charge approved in Ever-source’s recent rate case.
  • Energy Storage – Establishes a stronger 1,000 MWh deployment target for utility, third-party and customer owned systems in 2025.
  • Modernize the Grid – Requires utilities to file annual resiliency reports with the DPU and hold competitive solicitations for non-wires alternatives from third party developers as a solution for reducing green-house gas emissions, replacing aging infrastructure, benefitting stressed, congested or severe weather-prone areas of the electric grid.
  • Buildings – Promotes energy efficiency by enabling more technologies to qualify within the Mass Save efficiency programs.
  • Offshore Wind — Allows DOER, after studying the needs, benefits and costs, to conduct additional offshore wind procurements of up to 1,600 more megawatts by 2035.

— Solar Builder magazine

Protection Plan: Everything you need to know to protect a commercial roof during a PV installation

protection

A long-term, problem-free commercial flat roof solar installation starts with knowing about the roof systems themselves and how to keep them protected. This isn’t easy. For one, there is an alphabet soup of acronyms: PVC, TPO, EPDM, SBS, APP, BUR, PUF, PIB, CSPE, EPS and XPS. The roof industry lingo doesn’t seem to make much sense either, such as the difference between mechanically attached (MA) and fully adhered (FA), even though both are essentially screwed down mechanically.

In order to mitigate roof damage during construction, there are a few things we need to know. PVC, TPO, EPDM, PIB and CPSE are all single ply membranes, typically between 3/32 and 1/8-in. thick. They are either fully glued down (FA) to an insulation substrate that is glued or screwed to the structural deck or laid loose over the insulation and “stitched” along the seams with screws to the structural deck (MA).

protection

However, an issue with all single ply roofs is that repeated rolling or foot traffic over the screws and stress plates (used to secure the insulation and/or the in-seam screws and plates) can cause abrasion of the membrane, crushing of the insulation and/or tenting of the screws — all of which has the potential to puncture the membrane.

A concern with FA installations is that the plastic or rubber membrane is glued to the skin or facer of the insulation. Repeated rolling or foot traffic can cause the insulation foam to crush and cause cells of the foam insulation to break directly under the facer, causing a de-facto delamination of the roof. Any of this type of damage could end up causing leaks, roof damage or even blow-off — and ultimately, costly call backs.

In general, roof protection falls into two categories:

  • Temporary protection is the roof safeguard deployed during construction to avoid damaging the roof and is subsequently removed upon completion of construction. Some of these protections are universal among roof types and some are membrane specific.
  • Permanent protection will include slip sheets, separator sheets, walk pads and walkways. These items stay on the roof for the life of the PV system.

protection

Guidelines for temporary protection

Inspect the roof prior to starting work. Ensure there is no damage to the roofing membrane, including punctures and scratches to the surface. Any such damage should be circled and reported immediately so that it may be repaired quickly. Panels must not be placed over damaged areas until the damage is repaired.

Treads on wheeled equipment should be covered or other precautions taken to ensure that gravel embedded in the treads does not create a membrane puncture hazard. Motorized equipment should be limited to those that can start and stop gradually to minimize horizontal pulls on the membrane.

RELATED: Tips for planning your next retail PV project

Avoid damage to the foam board insulation layer below the membrane by:

  • Place all pallet loads on foam board sheets or similar materials that can spread the load without damaging the membrane or insulation below.
  • Protect areas that are frequently traveled with plywood or OSB boards (weighted down whenever necessary to prevent uplift by wind). Also, wherever possible, frequently change the travel path location.

Avoid separation of the membrane from the insulation by placing a layer of spaghetti matting (or similar approved matting material) on areas that will be rolled over more than two or three times. Any damage to the roof must be identified with a clear mark on the roof immediately after it occurs, and it should be promptly reported to the construction manager.

protection

Place all pallet loads on foam board sheets or similar materials that can spread the load without damaging the membrane or insulation below.

Protection procedures

For hoist landing areas and rooftop storage of any material in excess of 15 lbs/sf, use a rigid temporary protection system consisting of sheets of plywood or OSB, applied unadhered on the roof. Fully cover scheduled work areas with loosely abutting plywood sections, and apply dunnage insulation pieces between plywood sections and the roof membrane for heavy access or traffic conditions. Protect the plywood sections from wind displacement. Remove temporary rigid protection promptly upon completion of hoisting, loading or heavy traffic work.

When constructing ramps and work platforms, protect the roofing by arranging pieces of dunnage insulation between the ramp leading edges and all ramp/platform sleeper and support contact points.

Utilize temporary flexible protection consisting of rolls of walk mat material at all traffic lanes, which are essentially any areas subject to repeat or routine movement of personnel or carted materials. Loose walk mat material should be picked up and secured at the end of each day or whenever inclement or windy weather is predicted.

Ensure that the wheel load for rolling equipment does not exceed 15 psi. For example, wheeled equipment capable of carrying 1,200 lbs (combined self weight plus load) should have at least 80 sq in. of wheel contact area. If the equipment distributes the load on four wheels evenly, each wheel should have at least 20 sq in. of contact area. If the contact width is 4 in., the contact length must be at least 5 in. If the area is insufficient, either the load must be reduced or additional wheels must be added. For minor inadequacies, small amounts of air may be released from the tires to increase the contact areas.

protection

Guidelines for permanent protection

Rigid conduit supports, metal ballast trays or rigid racking that sits directly on the roof, or other equipment subject to thermally driven oscillation movement, will require appropriately sized roof material matching slip sheets.

Soft durometer PV racking support pads that are not subject to thermally driven oscillation and have been proven to be compatible with the roof membrane system type, may be — with the approval of the roof manufacturer — installed without slip sheets.

PV system support pads that have not been proven to be compatible in direct contact with the roof membrane (or if movement of the support pads relative to the roof are expected) will require an appropriately sized roof material matching slip or separator sheets.

If the roof is TPO, then the slip sheets are TPO — EPDM for EPDM roofs and PVC for PVC roofs. Slip sheet thickness is typically minimum .060 but material thickness matches above that. For example, .060 slip sheet for a .045 roof, .060 slip sheet for a .060 roof and .090 slip sheet for a .090 roof. The slip sheets can be tack welded, tack adhered or even loose depending on the roof manufacturer.

Upon completion of the PV installation, provide permanent walk pads at areas designated by the roof manufacturer as a location requiring protection. Typical locations include: a minimum 30-in. x 30-in. walk pad installed at all door or ladder access points and all work station locations on rooftop mounted mechanical equipment. Work station locations pertaining to a PV installation may include rooftop mounted inverters or combiner boxes. Additionally, any PV equipment that requires more than monthly service should have a dedicated path of walkway pads from the roof access point to the service-dependent equipment. The walk pad system should consist of the roof manufacturer’s roof-compatible walk pad installed utilizing the roof manufacturer’s recommended method of securement.

Peter Corsi is a consultant for N.B.S. Consultants.


Adhesive Mounting Options

Not a fan of ballast or attachments? Check out some adhesive options

green linkGreen Link introduced a new adhesive/sealant designed for use with its KnuckleHead Rooftop Support System. Green Link Adhesive/Sealant bonds and seals the KnuckleHead Universal Base directly to the roof membrane and is effective on a wide range of roof surfaces. The new adhesive/sealant has been specially formulated to adhere to PVC, EPDM, TPO and Mod Bit, as well as the KnuckleHead base itself, which is composed of glass-reinforced nylon. Green Link Adhesive/Sealant is based on polyether chemistry. It cures by exposure to moisture, so it can be applied to damp surfaces and will not shrink upon curing. It will not discolor from UV exposure, can be applied at temperatures as low as 32°F and is capable of joint movement in excess of 35 percent. It is available in standard 10.1-oz cartridges.

OMG Roofing Products’ PowerGrip Universal is designed to reduce or eliminate ballast in solar racking systems, offering up to 3,300 lbf of tensile strength, 2,500 lbf of shear strength and 2,000 lbf of compressive strength. It’s one of the strongest anchors on the market. Made of heavy-duty cast aluminum, PowerGrip Universal is easy to install, saving time and labor when compared to alternatives. The system transfers the load to the structural roof deck and does not require any membrane welding.

— Solar Builder magazine

Keep it simple, solar: Advice and products to streamline your next rooftop install

Keep part counts low

solar roof hook

The Low Profile QuickBOLT with Microflashing from SolarRoofHook can be installed in less than 60 seconds, and the key is its Microflashing technology, which is installed on top of the shingles and eliminates the need to pry apart shingles and shove oversized aluminum flashing underneath.

“We would like to see installers move away from the old-school aluminum flashing method and replace that with Microflashing technology,” said Samantha Dalton, marketing manager for SolarRoofHook. “Using Microflashing reduces installers risk too. When installers are forced to separate shingles to install aluminum flashing, they often must remove nails from the roof. This leaves open penetrations in the roof, as well as leads them to risk voiding the roofing warranty and breaking code. Microflashing doesn’t pose those same risks and bonds with the roofing material to create a watertight seal.”

Quick Mount debuts new full rooftop rail system

 Quick Mount QRail

Quick Mount PV is simplifying your supply chain with QRail, its new rooftop racking system featuring patented QClick and QSplice technologies that simplify and speed installation. QRail combines with Quick Mount PV’s waterproof mounts to create a complete, fully-integrated racking and mounting solution for installing solar PV modules on any roof.

The patented QClick technology enables module clamps to easily click into the rail channel and remain in an upright position, ready to accept the module. QRail’s QSplice is the fastest, most efficient splice in the industry — a tool-free, bonded, fully-structural splice that installs in seconds with no extra hardware required.
Electrical bonding is fully integrated into every system component. All electrical bonds are created when the components are installed and tightened down. QRail is fully code compliant, certified to UL 2703, and backed by a 25-year warranty.

Pre-assembly

Magerack,

As a best practice, Jason Xie, president of Magerack, recommends assembling components on the ground as much as possible and avoiding assembling tiny components such as rubber washers on the roof.

For example, Magerack solar mounting components don’t contain any rubber components and all components are pre-assembled out of box. Magerack roof attachment doesn’t need any rubber washer and has no tiny components except pre-assembled fasteners. The two major components of MageMount MageMount II Rail-less Solar Mounting System, module connector and module brackets, can be assembled to the solar module on the ground before moving them on the roof. Module connectors are used to connect and secure two adjacent solar modules along the same row or between two rows. Those connectors and the roof attachments can be attached anywhere along the module edge where they are needed the most.

Look to kits

Unirac’s SunFrame Microrail

Consider systems where only a single tool is required for installation. Take Unirac’s SunFrame Microrail or the new Pro Series SM for example. Parts come pre-assembled out of the box making for a quick and easy install on the roof. There is no need to fumble with loose parts and pieces. Parts can be pulled from the box and can be put straight to use.

“One tool installation saves time on the roof, eliminating the chance of dropping tools while changing sockets,” says Anthony Romero, lead trainer for Unirac.

The SM Pro Series features module agnostic mid and end clamps. The end clamps secure the module while staying beneath the module. Arrays look very clean and appealing without any rail or hardware protruding. The mid clamps come pre-assembled and are self-standing. They also come coated with anti-seize to prevent galling and breaking stainless steel bolts. Unirac’s FlashKit Pro comes in a pack of 10 with flashing, L-Feet, T-bolts and lag bolts in one convenient box. Having everything in one package helps cut down on the amount of packaging needed on the roof. They are the easiest flashing kit to count, kit and carry to the roof.

SKU reduction

SunRunner 4 clip

The SunRunner 4 clip from Heyco was developed to reduce the number of SKUs for an installer. For those using a mix of SolarEdge and Enphase, this clip will handle both types of cable. The SunRunner 4 clips directly onto the PV module frame and holds up to four SolarEdge cables or up to three Enphase Q cables comfortably. The SunRunner 4 takes the guesswork out of ordering the correct clip as it holds both types of cable. Heyco also manufactures top rail clips with the exact same clip design as its SunRunner 4 for top racking manufacturers like Unirac, IronRidge, and Everest. This universal design allows the clips to be used on a wider range of installations and reduce the number of SKUs (and headaches) for installers. Heyco also offers a series of nylon UVX clips which qualify for its 20-year warranty and are generally 20 percent less expensive than their stainless steel equivalents.

— Solar Builder magazine