U.S.-based Schletter subsidiary files for bankruptcy after premature product launch

Schletter

The Schletter Group sent word that it’s reorganizing its business in the United States. The U.S. subsidiary Schletter Inc, based in Shelby, N.C., has filed for Chapter 11 proceedings in order to sort out its current financial situation. Business activities are to be continued in close cooperation with clients and creditors.

“Filing for Chapter 11 proceedings at our U.S. subsidiary does not mean that we as a group are withdrawing from the U.S. market”, the group’s CEO Tom Graf commented. “North America remains an important and growing market for our brand and we will continue to have a strong presence there.”

The current financial situation in the U.S. is primarily the result of launching a new product before it was ready for high volume production, combined with the effect of the solar tariffs. The U.S. subsidiary, Schletter Inc, under its previous management overextended itself by acquiring a number of large scale projects involving a new product (G-Max), which it had solely developed in and for the U.S. The cost of carrying through these projects was significantly higher than planned due to the premature launch of the new product. It is this considerable financial burden which ultimately made this step necessary.

Although the product launch was challenging and there were significant operational issues, there was a significant volume of product deployed and the customers were pleased with the results. Some of these systems, in fact, stood up very well during the hurricanes in 2017. “With that success, and with the manufacturing issues resolved, our G-Max mounting system will continue to be the flagship offering for utility scale installations in North America”, Schletter Inc.’s CEO Russell Schmit commented.

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“The Chapter 11 proceedings now enable us to reorganize the U.S. company’s finances as we move forward”, Graf said. In parallel with Chapter 11, the German group is also filing for Chapter 15 in the U.S. regarding Schletter Inc. This relatively new amendment to the U.S. Bankruptcy code was introduced to coordinate cross-border cases. It provides the necessary legal framework to closely tie the U.S. proceedings to those at its German mother company, Schletter GmbH. Since March Schletter GmbH has been using the German equivalent of Chapter 11 proceedings in order to restructure its finances as debtor in possession. Other companies of the group are not affected by the proceedings.

In the meantime, the proceedings in Germany are making good progress. A few weeks ago a structured investor process was started and more than a dozen interested parties from Germany and abroad are currently reviewing the company’s accounts. “Investor interest is pleasingly high, which shows the strength of the Schletter brand”, emphasised Graf. Production, sales and services of Schletter Germany, and in fact all other companies of the group that are not affected by the proceedings, continue as normal. The goal is to complete the proceedings by this summer.

Even under the ongoing restructuring, the Group has been able to conclude in recent weeks a number of interesting new orders with a volume of over 20 MW. Those include projects in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, Senegal and Jordan. Preparations for Intersolar, the largest solar trade fair in Europe, which is being held in June, are also under way. There, Schletter will present for the first time a tracker system, developed specifically for the U.S. and the Australian markets. A number of other product innovations will also be on display such as the FixGrid 2018, which has again been improved in terms of capacity and ease of installation.

— Solar Builder magazine

Watch: How a single person can install Schletter’s G-Max fixed tilt racking

Steel solar mounting systems manufacturer Schletter kicked off its new blog last week with a quick tutorial on how to install its next generation racking system: G-Max. G-Max’s fixed-tilt construction is ideally suited for utility-scale installations, but here’s the wild part to us: The G-Max system’s fast and easy installation is so simple that a single person can install the girder, head adapter, and strut without assistance.

  1. Position the strut onto previously installed lower location bolt.
  2. Position head into upper location bolt.
  3. Install bolt at upper post.
  4. Tighten post bolts using 19 mm socket. The post will pull in tightly.
  5. Mark all the tightened bolts for quality control.

If you don’t believe it, check out the video above.

— Solar Builder magazine

The ‘Carportunity’: How our electric vehicle future means big things for solar carports

California’s Franchise Tax Board complex

Electric vehicles taking over the road is no longer a question. Sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and all-electric vehicles have surged recently. So now the question is where are all of these things going to get their juice?

A new study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) quantifies how much charging infrastructure would be needed in the United States to support various market growth scenarios for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). NREL notes that most PEV charging occurs at home, but widespread PEV adoption would require the development of a national network of non-residential charging stations. Strategically installing these stations early would maximize their economic viability while enabling efficient network growth as the PEV market matures. NREL says about 8,000 fast-charging stations would be needed to provide a minimum level of urban and rural coverage nationwide.

No one asked us, but we think carport developments have a big opportunity (a carportunity!) to lead the way. The segment is seeing notable reductions in system costs and installation timelines that only make more projects viable.

Quest Renewables

The Value of Expertise

There is enough institutional knowledge among the chief carport construction companies now to give developers and larger investors confidence. Feast your eyes on California’s Franchise Tax Board complex, for example (pictured above). Developed by DGS-Building Property Management and installed by Ecoplexus at one of the largest business campuses in northern California, it is the state’s largest carport installation (10,400 PV panels), covering 1,276 employee parking spaces, spanning over 622,000 sq ft and generating 3.6 MW.

The project was made possible because of Baja Carport’s specialization in pre-engineered, pre-fabricated high-tensile, light gauge steel structures. And in chatting with its team at SPI this year, we’ve learned the company has been able to further streamline the costs of its system.

Then there is 4 S.T.E.L. and its standardized processes. Carport projects involve a ton of engineering and civil approval. 4 S.T.E.L.’s staff of engineers, project managers and drafters can design and erect a carport in their sleep at this point, but the big value comes in swift preapproval of its designs with the California Division of State Architects among other strict jurisdictions and building departments. Design preapproval can literally shave months off certain project timelines.

Park-onomics: Best practices for constructing cost-effective carport projects

Carports are certainly spreading beyond California too. At Michigan State University (MSU), Inovateus Solar is nearing completion of a 14-MW solar carport project spanning five parking lots and 700 sq ft on the East Lansing campus (pictured below). Using Schletter’s Park@Sol concept, the design is a maintenance-free, lightweight aluminum system with canopies standing 14-ft tall at the lowest point to provide enough room for recreational vehicles to park during football season. The carport install is expected to generate 15,000 MWh of electricity annually for MSU with projections showing a savings of $10 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years.

Schletter

Disruptive Designs

Key to the Schletter approach is its Micropile foundation, a hollow metal rod installed deep into the ground (pictured to the right), that requires less concrete material to accomodate even high wind and snow loads.

“The technology innovation of using Schletter micropiles as foundations and precast concrete pads, in addition to the engineering design, cut the construction schedule in half and minimized the risk factors in a rainy environment like Florida,” said Javier Latre Gorbe, VP of Technical Operations for ESA Renewables.

A newer entrant into the carport system space, Quest Renewables, has an especially exciting concept. Hatched as project at Georgia Tech Research Institute in 2011, the design received a work grant from the DOE’s SunShot Initiative and was commercialized in 2014. The hook here is a triangular support structure that requires less steel and allows for most of it to be assembled on the ground (pictured above).

Solar carports will spread across the country as costs decline

A vehicle auction company in Elkridge, Md., put in a 304-kW system and selected the Quest Renewables QuadPod to reduce foundation counts by 50 percent (using 50 percent less steel) to mitigate the poor soil conditions. From site survey to powering up, the system was completed in 45 days with minimal interruption to the parking lot. Another project in Portland, Maine, needed to minimize disruption of the work area. The 90 percent ground-level construction allowed it to be built in just eight days from start to finish. This first parking garage canopy install in Maine will sustain 112 mph winds and 50 psf of snow.

There’s a long way to go to fill in that void NREL is talking about, but it’s a start.

— Solar Builder magazine

Mounting Pressure: Today’s large-scale PV boom demands new levels of service from racking companies

Solar FlexRack

For the first time ever, in 2016, U.S. solar ranked as the No. 1 source of new electric generating capacity additions on an annual basis. In total, solar accounted for 39 percent of new capacity additions across all fuel types, and these big numbers are coming via big installs as the utility-scale segment grew 145 percent from 2015.

“In a banner year for U.S. solar, a record 22 states each added more than 100 MW,” says Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. solar research. “While U.S. solar grew across all segments, what stands out is the double-digit gigawatt boom in utility-scale solar, primarily due to solar’s cost competitiveness with natural gas alternatives.”

The trend shows no signs of reversing, and as utility-scale solar projects continue to boom, the industry demand for material and logistical services will keep increasing pressure on suppliers like never before.

Raw materials bottleneck

“It’s a simple matter of supply and demand,” says Chuck Galbreath, VP of supply chain at SunLink. “If I have more time, I can find more options and drive down costs. When schedules are compressed and I’m forced into a tight delivery window, I have to go with the supplier who is able to deliver in the time allotted, which allows less room for negotiation.”

Others agree: “We often encounter requests for expedited finished product that can be more aggressive than the lead times from the steel mills. For our proprietary racking systems, OMCO is now maintaining a responsible level of steel inventory to support these instances,” states Todd Owen, General Manager of OMCO Solar.

The time pinch has led to more in-house manufacturing. “The top five racking manufacturers have reached economies of scale where additional volume no longer decreases price, forcing manufacturers to vertically integrate by producing more parts and material in-house,” says Paul Benvie, VP of engineering at TerraSmart.

Because the sector is so dependent upon the steel market, finished product pricing can be volatile. The recent anti-dumping lawsuits spurred market increases that were felt in all steel industries, including solar. Benvie says TerraSmart has countered the pricing roller coaster by making strategic hedge buys and leaning on suppliers to honor and hold pricing so they are capable of manufacturing product at a reliable price point.

To help combat delivery delays, more mounting companies also are establishing regional centers. “Steel delivered to and from opposite coasts can have a significant impact on costs and schedules,” Benvie says. “Strategic manufacturers have set up facilities that are centrally located and/or have different branches at opposite ends of the country. For example, TerraSmart has opened a new manufacturing facility in Columbus, Ohio, and can manufacture identical parts out of the Southeast, Southwest and New England.”

RELATED: We look at the value decentralized tracker systems bring to a project 

Timelines keep shrinking

“As the solar industry matures and adopts the more typical rigid large-scale construction approach to project schedules, timelines have been compressed and suppliers are now expected to adhere to strict, tight daily schedules,” says Nick Troia, VP of corporate quality and project management at SunLink. “It is a more professional atmosphere that in some cases is straining the less sophisticated suppliers.”

The compression is substantial: “We ask customers for a 12-week lead time, but in this market we are lucky if we get eight,” says Larry Reeves, a project manager for Array Technologies Inc. (ATI). “Schedules are crazy now.”

Seasonal variations also intensify weather constraints. “The solar industry is challenging, as many financiers, developers and EPCs push to close projects out in Q4,” Benvie says. “In New England, this can be increasingly challenging with projects kicking off as the daylight hours get shorter, temperatures drop and field conditions deteriorate.”

“Without getting into the dollars and cents, delays can be very costly, such as the triggering of liquidated damages that could accumulate at thousands of dollars per day or by hindering project completion for a tax credit deadline,” observes Troia.

Losses can be the cost of customer maintenance, too. In some of these unavoidable situations, someone involved in the project has to recognize and proactively eliminate a delay before it happens.

“We believe we are truly partners with our clients, so we commonly shoulder costs or increase productivity to minimize the sting of a delay, regardless of who caused it,” Benvie says.

Next, we look at the turnkey services and systems designed for saving time on project development.

— Solar Builder magazine

Schletter Group debuts next-gen fixed tilt ground-mount racking system, G-Max

Schletter Group is introducing G-Max — the company’s next generation fixed-tilt, solar ground-mount racking system.

Schletter

What’s cool about it?

According to Schletter, noteworthy cost benefits of the steel ground-mount product include increased adjustment capability in the field, increased spans between foundations, standardization and reduction of hardware, and lower costs across multiple installation steps.

The company says it will pre-assemble many components prior to shipment in order to allow installers to unfold and connect the structure more easily on site. Like all Schletter North American products, G-Max is manufactured in the U.S. and comes with a standard 20-year limited manufacturer’s warranty, adds Schletter.

RELATED: SPI Preview: Four fixed-tilt mounting products to see 

“This ‘smart rack’ is unlike any fixed-tilt solar mounting system on the market today,” says Eddie Bugg, executive vice president of product technologies and applications at Schletter Group. “The design leverages our unique manufacturing technology to provide optimized racking for project-specific needs. The robust structural profiles are more stable for longer spans, positioning G-Max to succeed Schletter’s existing steel FS Uno product. Look for more product innovation from Schletter in the months to come.”

G-Max is currently ready for design and pricing on projects.

— Solar Builder magazine