Rolling Large: Roll-forming leader OMCO rolls out its new factory-direct racking

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design incorporates value-added touches that leverage its OEM factory-direct capability.

In this uncertain #TrumpTariffs market, many investors have less appetite for newer, less proven systems, seeing that as another avenue of risk in projects where pennies and seconds count more than ever. This puts the spotlight on companies and products that can deliver the most certainty in terms of upfront costs, bankability and logistics. Given that context, the 2018-’20 market may not be interested in a new ground-mount PV concept, but the new Field-Fast system from OMCO is an exception that checks all of those boxes and more.

OMCO is one of those companies that’s been around for decades, supplying more product in the background than you realize. A roll-former that has cultivated relationships with U.S. steel providers since the 1950s, OMCO has provided nearly 8 GW of solar currently in the ground across the globe, working with industry giants like First Solar and Sunpower as a contract manufacturer. So, the history and bankability is there.

It wasn’t until last year that OMCO decided to jump from more of a supporting actor to leading man with the Field-Fast fixed-tilt system. The design is influenced by its years of experience and incorporates value-added touches that leverage its OEM factory-direct capability, such as pre-assembly and less loose hardware. In large-scale solar projects, small improvements can add up to sizable savings.

Now a year after its launch and after a few revisions (a pre-assembled tilt bracket, for instance), OMCO has launched the Field-Fast system into the market. Let’s take an in-depth look at how it works and why it might benefit your next project.

Inside Field-Fast

The key advantage in ordering direct from the factory is reducing the filler material by preassembling as much as possible. The provided Field-Fast parts are boiled down to only five bill of material items vs. multiple pages of line items. Hardware arrives to the site pre-sorted and counted specific to each block for quick staging and identification.

“On the EPC side, probably the biggest headache, as a customer is the number of moving parts,” says Eric Goodwin, director of business development from OMCO Solar, who spent part of his career leading the EPC supply chain team for First Solar. “Construction teams always lose hardware or lose track of something, and the next thing you know 60 people are waiting around for a bolt to arrive. We’ve tried to address those types of issues.”

The assembly bracket ships as a slim component that unfolds and notches into the tilt bracket. This is secured by an OMCO-designed, preassembled clip that is hammered into place in four locations. Done. That all happens at ground-level with two workers.

After placing a rubber pad over pre-installed threaded fasteners, the modules are slipped into preassembled clips and laid on top. The clips already have a bolt retained inside, and the table module rails already contain the threads for the clip, which means only one worker is needed to secure the panel, working from standing-level and never above the glass. Two clips are needed for completing the assembly of two modules.

Further smoothing out any logistics kinks: OMCO has four manufacturing sites spread across the country — Phoenix; Wickliffe, Ohio; Talladega, Ala.; and Pierceton, Ind. — compressing freight times and keeping costs low for the entire system.

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design

Saving studies

The company recently conducted assembly time trials of the new Field-Fast racking, and, with just two installers, here were the results for structural assembly (each set consisting of 10 panels and 300 Watts between two posts):

  • Man hours per set: 0.304
  • Burdened labor rate:$40
  • Labor efficiency:85%
  • Cycle time per set: 465 seconds
  • Sets per hour: 7
  • Sets per shift: 49
  • Labor cost per watt: $0.0041

Next comes the module installation for the same two installers on the same labor rate and efficiency:

  • Man hours per set: 0.200
  • Cycle time per set: 306 seconds
  • Modules per hour: 100
  • Watts per hour: 30,000
  • Labor costs per watt: $0.0027
  • Module + BOS costs per watt: $0.0068

Stacked against installation of conventional systems, the Field-Fast racking can reduce costs per watt from 35 to 50 percent.

“With fewer parts and installation steps, we basically can cut the install time in half in some cases,” Goodwin says. “On the mechanical BoS part of an install, which is the racking itself, we’re able to show about 40 percent labor efficiency on a cost per watt, so our actual labor cost per watt for mechanical is about .4 cents per watt, and that’s about 20 percent less than we’re seeing in the market for racking. On the panel installation, those have taken labor costs down to .2 cents per watt.”

OMCO can also handle the purlins and turnkey construction services, but this isn’t just another tale of faster turn times and reduced costs. Ordering factory-direct snips out other possibilities for delays, such as last second module changes.

“We can adjust our roll-form program for any size framed module [including the new First Solar Series 6] for Field-Fast,” Goodwin says. “We know of projects where modules change last second because of prices, and we’re able to make those changes and adjust to that. That can be difficult if you’re having it fabricated elsewhere.”

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design

First Solar ecosystem

As mentioned, OMCO is part of the First Solar ecosystem and has a slick module interface bracket (MIB) for First Solar tracker projects as well as an OEM fixed-tilt solution for Series 4 modules with nearly 5 GW of the baseline design installed. The MIB arrives to the jobsite fully assembled — the structural components, module clips, threaded hardware, rubber inserts. It slips on over the torque tube with a single carriage bolt fixing it in place.

“The unexpected increase and extension of Series 4 module life was a nice surprise. We have designed a product for almost 6 GW of First Solar projects, and the Field-Fast series is even more tailored to Series 6 when it comes out.”

Being a First Solar ecosystem partner is just another notch in its bankable, tariff-free value proposition. As First Solar scales and increases production into 2019 and 2020, OMCO is looking to capitalize, no matter what the new steel tariff brings.

This feature was in the May/June 2018 issue of Solar Builder magazine. Sign up for your free print or digital subscription here.

— Solar Builder magazine

Update on First Solar’s new U.S. manufacturing plant

First Solar logo

Rudolph Libbe Inc., of the Rudolph Libbe Group, will serve as design/build contractor for First Solar Inc.’s new $400 million solar module manufacturing facility in Lake Township, Ohio. Construction is expected to begin in mid-2018 on the 1 million-square-foot facility, which will manufacture Series 6 thin-film PV modules and triple First Solar’s U.S. capacity. Approximately 500 construction jobs will be created by the project.

First Solar will add 500 new jobs to staff the new facility, which is scheduled to enter full production mode in late 2019. The facility will be located within a mile of First Solar’s flagship manufacturing center in Perrysburg Township.

Through Rudolph Libbe Group’s SiteLine services, Rudolph Libbe Properties supported First Solar with selection of the approximately 110-acre site.

“For 16 years, First Solar has been a great employer and a key member of our local business community,” Rudolph Libbe President Tim Alter said. “GEM Inc. and Rudolph Libbe Inc. have been honored to have a long relationship with them, starting with the construction of their first manufacturing facility. We’re very pleased and proud to build for First Solar again as they continue to grow and bring jobs to our community.”

— Solar Builder magazine

First Solar awarded 200-MW project via Georgia Power’s Renewable Energy Development Initiative

First Solar logo

First Solar is set to proceed with the development and construction of a 200-MWac solar power plant in Twiggs County, Ga. First Solar was awarded the installation as part of a 525 MWac RFP for Georgia Power’s Renewable Energy Development Initiative (REDI).

“This is a tremendously exciting opportunity for First Solar to demonstrate our capability to develop solar assets in the Southeast and help Georgia Power meet the renewable energy needs of its customers,” said Kathryn Arbeit, Vice President of Project Development – Americas for First Solar. “Georgia Power’s significant commitment to renewable energy, paired with Twiggs County’s strong leadership and supportive business environment, combine to serve as a great example of how solar can be seamlessly included in the region’s energy mix.”

The solar project is currently in an advanced development stage, and is being developed under a Power Purchase Agreement with Georgia Power for the electricity and renewable attributes generated by the facility. Construction is expected to begin in November 2018. Upon completion and commissioning, anticipated in late 2019, this will be the largest stand-alone PV solar plant in the southeastern United States.

“We are committed to working with the Georgia Public Service Commission to create programs, like REDI, that help grow renewable energy in Georgia and add value for all of our customers,” said Wilson Mallard, Director of Renewable Development for Georgia Power. “Recently completed large-scale solar projects across Georgia are serving customers today, and the Twiggs County project will be the latest addition, allowing Georgia Power customers to benefit from cost-effective, competitive solar as part of our diverse generation mix.”

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The project will be built on 2,000 acres of land near Warner Robins, Ga. Using over half a million of First Solar’s advanced technology thin film solar modules, the power plant is expected to generate more than 450 GWh of electricity annually. It will also be the largest infrastructure project in Twiggs County, which will see the economic benefit of 300-400 jobs during construction and ongoing tax revenues from the project.

“The Board of Commissioners extend a hearty Twiggs County welcome to First Solar,” said Ken Fowler, Chairman of the Twiggs County Commission. “We look forward to collaborating with our new partners on the biggest solar project in the state that will bring much needed jobs and economic benefits to the Geographic Center of Georgia.”

— Solar Builder magazine

First Solar to provide warranty service for Power Electronics inverters

First Solar logo

First Solar and Power Electronics have finalized an agreement to utilize First Solar’s PV Operations & Maintenance (O&M) team to provide Power Electronics warranty service on inverters installed throughout the United States. This unique relationship enables tangible owner value by reducing response time and repair time.

The arrangement allows Power Electronics to strengthen its customer support with the backing of First Solar Energy Services’ technical resource team. First Solar will provide field support on Power Electronics inverters installed at more than 50 solar power plants, many of which are already operated and maintained by First Solar Energy Services.

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“This collaboration aligns two organizations that share the same commitment to service excellence,” said Timo Moeller, Director of First Solar Energy Services. “Pairing Power Electronics equipment with First Solar’s scale and proven field expertise results in unmatched service structure in the PV industry.”

Moeller said that pairing Power Electronics inverters with First Solar O&M services results in lower operational cost and greater efficiency in plant maintenance.

— Solar Builder magazine

First Solar Series 6 PV modules are now rolling off U.S. production lines

First Solar logo

Tariffs or no tariffs, First Solar is ready to install a ton of PV, making a big splash this week by officially unveiling its first functional Series 6 thin film photovoltaic modules from its Perrysburg, Ohio, production line, as well announcing nearly 800 MW of new affiliate deals.

Series 6 scoop – way more capacity

Presented during a meeting with investment analysts at the Perrysburg facility, the large area Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) glass-on-glass module was part of the first batch of material run completely through the recently activated line. This marks a major milestone in a factory retooling that began just under one year ago, and included approximately $177 million in capital investment.

The new line is expected to be producing commercial product by early in the second quarter of 2018, and will have an annualized output of 600 MWdc when operating at full capacity.

Series 6 is expected to enter the commercial market with a power rating of 420-445 watts and conversion efficiency of over 17 percent. Measuring approximately 2 meters by 1.2 meters, Series 6 modules will provide more watts per lift than comparable crystalline silicon solar panels, and can be installed on virtually any ground-based PV mounting system.

“This is an extraordinary accomplishment, by any measure,” said First Solar CEO Mark Widmar. “Last November, we were in full Series 4 production mode. Since our decision at the end of 2016 to rapidly transition to Series 6, we’ve hit every incremental target with precision. We are absolutely delighted to be on track for delivery of commercial product early next year.”

Also during the meeting with analysts, First Solar announced it is expanding its production facility in Vietnam, essentially doubling production capacity of the initial site, which is still under construction. Annualized production capacity in Vietnam, when fully operational, will be 2.4 GWdc. This, in combination with Perrysburg and facilities in Kulim, Malaysia, will give First Solar a total Series 6 manufacturing capacity of approximately 5.4 GWdc by 2020, and represents approximately $1.4 billion in capital investment.

In late November of 2016, as a response to the highly competitive and dynamic PV market environment and customer demand for higher efficiency modules, First Solar made a strategic decision to accelerate development and production of Series 6. The new product, still based on First Solar’s unique thin film CdTe PV technology, increases physical dimensions and performance characteristics while adding an under-mount frame that allows for simple, high-velocity installation of the product in the field. With an excellent temperature coefficient, spectral response and shading behavior, Series 6 modules will generate significantly more energy than conventional crystalline silicon modules.

Widmar said First Solar will continue to maintain some Series 4 production at the Kulim plant as long as economic global demand calls for the product.

Deals!

First Solar, Inc. also completed module sale deals with an affiliate of D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments, L.L.C. (DESRI) totaling 200 MWdc and Origis Energy USA for nearly 600 MWdc.

The DESRI delivery dates are set for 2019. In addition, First Solar signed operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts for two projects that DESRI is developing. In addition to this module sale, DESRI has acquired three solar projects from First Solar since 2016 – the 40MWac Cuyama Solar Project in Santa Barbara County, Calif., the 31MWac Portal Ridge Solar Project in Los Angeles County, Calif., and the 11MWac Rancho Seco Solar Project in Sacramento County, Calif.

The Origis Energy USA deal spans a three-year delivery date schedule. The agreement includes delivery of First Solar’s Series 4 modules in 2017 and 2018, as well as Series 6 modules in 2019 and 2020. The advanced technology thin film modules will be utilized in various projects throughout the United States in which Origis Energy is constructing solar sites.

“The bankability of solar and energy storage components is a key consideration for us to deliver high performing clean energy assets to our clients,” said Samir Verstyn, Chief Investment Officer, Origis Energy. “This alliance with First Solar fulfills the site and schedule commitments we have made to the market in the foreseeable future. We are very pleased to construct our projects with First Solar Tier 1 module technology.”

— Solar Builder magazine