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

2016 Editor’s Choice Projects of the Year: Solving space limitations

beardWe say it every year: When it comes to solar projects, we are all winners.

We already announced the winners of our 2016 Project of the Year vote, but we at Solar Builder liked a bunch of the other submissions too. Welcome to the first in our series of Editor’s Choice winners! These are projects that
didn’t garner the most votes from readers but we felt were still pretty darn cool too.

Strictly Pediatrics Surgery Center

Strictly-Pediatrics-2

Comprised of nearly 2,500 solar panels, the 812-kW system designed and installed by Freedom Solar Power includes two solar canopy structures on the parking garages, a roof-mounted solar array on the building and an in-lobby monitoring system that shows the energy savings in real-time. The limited space on the building’s rooftop was covered with panels during phase one, but phase two is where the real innovation took place — Freedom Solar Power designed and installed a custom solar canopy to shade the top floors of the parking garages while providing a significant amount of the building’s energy needs. The solar installation is expected to offset 50 percent of Strictly Pediatrics’ energy needs and generate more than 1.2 million kWh of electricity per year. The solar project will pay for itself in less than seven years. and save Strictly Pediatrics more than $3 million over the next 25 years.

Strictly-Pediatrics-3

 

Location: Austin, Texas

Size: 812 kW

Completed: May 2016

Developer: Freedom Solar Power

Contractor: Freedom Solar Power

Modules: SunPower

Inverters: SMA

Mounting: Schletter (for rails and clamps)


Mashpee Commons

Mashpee-commons

Mashpee Commons is an open-air shopping center that is the physical and social center of the quaint Cape Cod town of Mashpee. SunBug Solar was ultimately selected to carry out the project and was careful to address several key requirements of the client. At Mashpee Commons, where the visitor experience is paramount, SunBug Solar made sure not to impinge on the enjoyment of the guests. The use of heavy equipment was limited; all panels, racking and ballast was lifted onto the roof using cranes in the early morning to avoid interfering with shopping hours. Street trenching and overhead wires were also not allowed. To further complicate the project, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires a formal waiver from the Department of Public Utilities to install more than one net meter on a single parcel of land, so the seven rooftop solar arrays had to be tied into one main Point of Interconnection — without cutting pavement. SunBug Solar decided to use horizontal underground drilling to connect the arrays to the main panel (2,000 ft of underground conduit and wiring). In order to connect inverters on seven separate roofs to a single cluster controller, SunBug Solar installed NanoBeam wireless devices on each roof to wirelessly connect to the local area network.

Mashpee-Commons-3

Location: Mashpee, Mass.

Size: 443 kW

Completed: June 2016

Developer: SunBug Solar

Contractor: SunBug Solar

Modules: SunPower

Inverters: SMA

Mounting: Ecolibrium

— Solar Builder magazine