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


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.



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 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.


Location: Mashpee, Mass.

Size: 443 kW

Completed: June 2016

Developer: SunBug Solar

Contractor: SunBug Solar

Modules: SunPower

Inverters: SMA

Mounting: Ecolibrium

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar Builder Project of The Year Winner: Fort Madison Middle School

Fort Madison Middle School

Category: Roof-Mount

Fort Madison, Iowa | 300 kW


The landmark 1922 Fort Madison Middle School nearly wound up in an Iowa landfill, but thanks to the vision of developer Todd Schneider, and thanks to state-administered funding from the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), the apartment complex is a showcase of renewable energy.

Schneider had already remodeled a number of public schools in Iowa before the middle school fell into his hands. Sorely outdated for school use and empty since 2012, he transformed the three-story building into a 39-unit apartment complex, primarily featuring three-bedroom configurations.

roof mount winner“Designing green definitely helped finance the project because the CDBG is a competitive loan that is scored on a point system, so more points for our green design, including renewable energy, pushed us to the top of the pile,” Schneider says. “It was a one-time CDBG program involving new housing as part of flood relief. There were $124 million worth of applicants across the state, and only $12 million in funds to release, and we got $3 million. The total project cost was $5.5 million, with the remainder borrowed from a local bank. We’re also on track for some historical tax credits to pay down the notes.”

While the project is a for-profit venture, Schneider also retained the gymnasium and the auditorium, which may come to serve more public use. He said members of the class of 1960 have offered to contribute some funding to preserve it.

Since the block grant encouraged renewable energy use, the project was analyzed from a green viewpoint from the beginning. “We worked with an energy auditing company to get appropriate sizing of the PV system,” notes Troy Van Beek, the CEO of Ideal Energy, which planned and installed the 300-kW solar system. “We used lots of insulation.”

The apartments each have varying usage by design — some are gas, some are electric.

“We used gas on the lower level, and as the apartments rise, we used more electric,” Van Beek says. “The 100-kW carport supplies the third floor and part of the first floor. The 200 kW on the roof supplies part of the second and third floors. In the future, there will likely be an electric vehicle charging station in conjunction with the carport.”

RELATED: PV in schools: Education sector is one of solar’s best opportunities 

“Our calculations are that the solar will generate $58,000 to $70,000 worth of electricity per year, so after tax credits, we are looking at an 8.5-year payback,” Schneider says. “The rent includes utilities, but we discount their estimated bills by 20 percent.

Apart from the solar, the second and third floors use air-driven electric heat pumps, and all hot water heaters are electric heat pump driven.

The 200-kW array on the roof supplies part of the second and third floors of the building.

The 200-kW array on the roof supplies part of the second and third floors of the building.

Utility partnership helps The local utility, Alliant Energy, has net metering, so energy will be sold back in the summer and pulled more during the winter.

“It was a clear process working with the utility,” Van Beek notes.

Alliant has a progressive solar program, which includes a corporate renewable center. The utility built an energy learning lab at its Madison, Wis., general office with several types of solar structures, multiple electric vehicle charging stations and an energy battery storage system. This solar learning laboratory enables Alliant to discover the many ways solar energy and renewables can be used in a Wisconsin setting. For Alliant, one of its key projects will be a monitoring interface available onsite and online where anyone can view real-time performance data.
Ideal Energy sees potential for extrapolating lessons learned from this project to community solar projects elsewhere in the state.

“We’d love to do community solar; that’s how the utilities would like to see solar unfold,” Van Beek says. “Nothing has taken hold yet for community solar legislation, but we are doing everything we can politically to promote it; it’s going to happen, but it’s a process.”

In the meantime, Ideal Energy recently expanded its operational footprint to include Minnesota, along with existing Illinois and Iowa business.

“We have coordinated with SolarCity and groSolar and look to handle any size array,” he notes.

Charles W. Thurston is a freelance writer who covers solar energy from Northern California. Reach him at chazwt@gmail.com.

— Solar Builder magazine

2016 Solar Mounting/Racking Guide: Product Showcase

PV mounting solutions

Photo credit: EcoFasten Solar

Most of you may have learned that the earth is not flat. Which is too bad, really. If it was flat, we’d just place PV panels all over it and call it a day. Our Mounting Guide would certainly be a lot less interesting.

But no, of course it isn’t flat. It’s not even round, really. It’s hilly and bumpy and slanted and hard and soft. It’s also full of wind and falling water and ice. And sometimes, when the gods are bored, the ground literally quakes. And that’s just on one site.

Somehow, on top of all that, we are now installing GWs of renewable energy. How is it even possible? Why, mounting and racking solutions, certainly help. Below is a guide to many of today’s top mounting/racking companies, the services they offer and a standout product in their lineup. And if you missed any of our other Mounting Guide articles this year, check those out too:



Roof Tech’s RT-[E] Mount

RT- [E] Mount is a compact, versatile rail-less PV mounting system. Simply attach the RT-[E] Mount to the rafters or anywhere else on roof decking. Once the panels are fastened, the system array is electrically bonded. RT-[E] Mount comes complete with RT Butyl flashing, renowned for its watertight performance and durability. PE stamped certification letters available: UL 2703, ICC ESR-3575, ASTM 2140, Fully Waterproof.

Lineup Snapshot



Types: Rail-free

Website: www.roof-tech.us
Contact: info@roof-tech.us

RELATED: Mounting with butyl rubber: How Roof Tech gets a leak-proof seal 



Spice Solar’s complete system

Spice Solar has developed a complete system that reduces parts and rooftop installation time on all roof types and all wind/snow zones. No more racking, mid and end clamps, transporting 20-ft rails, sawing, splicing and grounding — not to mention all the purchasing, inventory and logistics hassles that go along with this blizzard of rooftop parts.



Types: Integrated racking

Engineering Services: Layout/design

Website: www.spicesolar.com
Contact: info@spicesolar.com



NEW-SolarRoofHook-ProductSolarRoofHook’s All Tile Adjustable Roof Hook

SolarRoofHook’s All Tile Adjustable Roof Hook is the leading mounting hardware for clay and concrete tile roofs in the industry. It is designed to work with a variety of tile sizes and types, including both flat and Spanish tile roofs. This hook has three points of adjustability and is compatible with all major racking manufacturers, accepting 5/16 in. or 3/8 in. bolts.



Types: Rack-mount, hooks

Website: www.solarroofhook.com
Contact: jwiener@quickscrews.com


NEW-ECOFASTENEcoFasten’s Rail-Free Rock-It System

With the top-down leveling of EcoFasten Solar’s rail-free Rock-It System, the installer can level as they go or after the install. Also, the extensive EcoFasten line of patented watertight solar roof mounts is comprised of a series of product systems characterized by roof-type application. Each system can be paired with a wide variety of brackets, allowing installers to attach EcoFasten Solar roof mounts to virtually any racking option.



Types: Structural, rail-free

Engineering Services: Layout/design

Website: www.ecofastensolar.com
Contact: (877) 859-3947

RELATED: Do you need a solar snow management system? 


CertainTeedCertainTeed’s Solstice System

CertainTeed’s Solstice System features high-efficiency, 60-cell monocrystalline or polycrystalline photovoltaic panels with power outputs from 260 W to 285 W. The rack-mounted modules are available in a variety of black and white frame and backsheet combinations. Solstice is also backed by CertainTeed’s equipment, power output and installation workmanship warranty — one of the most comprehensive in the industry.


Website: www.certainteed.com/roofing/solar


MagerackMagerack’s Solar Mounting System

The Magerack Solar Mounting System is a turn-key solar mounting solution that includes all components from the rail and clamps to roof attachments. The system is UL 2703 listed and has a Class A file rating with integrated bonding and grounding. In particular, its patented L-foot with flashing is easy to install and absolutely waterproof at a competitive price. Magerack will also have innovative rail-less mounting system available this year.



Types: Structural, hooks

Website: www.magerack.com
Contact: info@magerack.com


SnapNrackSnapNrack’s Series 100 Roof Mount System

The SnapNrack Series 100 Roof Mount System is engineered to optimize material use, labor resources and aesthetic appeal. The system boasts pre-assembled, stainless steel “Snap-In” hardware, watertight flash attachments and installs with a single tool. It is fully integrated with built-in wire management solutions for all roof types, one-size-fits-all features and can withstand extreme environmental conditions. It is listed to UL Standard 2703 for Grounding/Bonding, Fire Classification and Mechanical Loading.



Types: Rack-mount, hooks, fixed tilt

Engineering Support: Layout/design

Website: www.snapnrack.com
Contact: contact@snapnrack.com


Solar-SpeedrackSolar SpeedRack’s SpeedMount

Solar SpeedRack’s SpeedMount (UL 2703, 1703 and 467) is a shared rail system.  The black anodized aluminum rails are shipped pre-assembled and are adjustable to fit over 95 percent of the available modules. Its rail strength and spans are industry leading with roof penetrations further reduced by using its SpeedFoot, a non-penetrating load-bearing rail attachment making this system an ideal solution for high wind and/or snow loads. Through use of its calculator, available free of charge on its website, customers can design their project in portrait, landscape or a combination of both and produce an accurate bill of materials for the racking required.



Types: Rack-mount, fixed-tilt, carport

Engineering Support: Layout/design, geotech

Website: www.solarspeedrack.com
Contact: shane@solarspeedrack.com


QuickRack-systemQuick Mount PV’s Quick Rack

Quick Mount PV’s patented mounting system Quick Rack is a simple, cost-effective and elegant rail-free solar mounting system. Featuring QRack technology, the patented system is an integrated roof mount and racking system, engineered to be robust and structurally sound. The system works with standard module frames and comes with state-of-the-art design software. Quick Rack ships in small boxes, saving money on shipping and logistics. With no rails, installation is fast and simple with mounts-to-modules instead of mounts-to-rails-to-modules.



Types: Rack-mount, rail-free, hooks

Engineering Support: Layout/design, installation

Website: quickmountpv.com
Contact: sales@quickmountpv.com

Click 2 for rooftop commercial and ground-mount products

— Solar Builder magazine

DC optimizer advocates: HDPV Alliance adds 14 big names to member ranks

HDPV Alliance

Have you head of the HDPV Alliance? It is an industry-wide alliance focused on lowering the cost and increasing the performance of PV solar systems — an alliance that just got a little bigger. HDPV announced the addition of 14 new members including: Arctech Solar, Array Technologies, Inc. (ATI), Bender, Bentek, China Sunergy, ConnectPV, Folsom Labs, GameChange Racking, GS Battery, Littelfuse, Schletter, Stion Corporation, Tabuchi Electric and Waaree.

These new members join Alliance founders Ampt, Bonfiglioli, KACO new energy and LTI ReEnergy to expand HDPV membership to over 30 companies from around the globe.

HDPV, or High Definition PV, refers to PV system designs that use DC optimizers to achieve greater system power management capability while lowering the total system costs on day one. Alliance members collaborate through defined standards and shared best practices to make lower cost and higher performing systems widely available to the industry.

“We are pleased to welcome our new members and look forward to working with them to serve our mutual customers,” said Mark Kanjorski, HDPV Alliance chair and director of marketing for Ampt. “With these new partners, HDPV members continue to work together to source projects, be more competitive within the industry, and provide customers with lower cost and higher performing PV systems.”

New HDPV Alliance members include:

Arctech Solar is one of the world’s largest manufacturers and solution providers of solar tracking and racking systems for utilities, commercial, industrial and residential projects. Since 2009, Artech Solar has over 6 GW of installations and hundreds of completed projects in more than 10 countries.

Array Technologies, Inc. (ATI) is a U.S.-based solar manufacturer of smart, cost-effective, reliable and robust solar tracking systems for utilities, corporations, small businesses and homeowners.

Bender has been a global leader in ground fault protection products for both grounded and ungrounded systems.

Bentek is a leader in engineered electromechanical and power distribution solutions for industrial applications, designing and manufacturing products such as cable harnesses, electrical combiner boxes, and custom OEM assemblies for the solar energy and semiconductor markets.

China Sunergy is a public company listed on the NASDAQ as CSUN. Founded in 2007, CSUN is a tier one manufacturer in China with 1.2 GW of solar cells and module production capacity.

ConnectPV is based in San Diego and delivers expertise and experience. ConnectPV brings over 10 years of solar PV industry experience in electrical balance of system products.

Folsom Labs develops HelioScope, an advanced PV system design tool that integrates system layout and performance modeling to simplify the process of engineering and selling solar projects.

GameChange Racking leads utility and large commercial solar racking with bankable quality, unmatched service and value pricing.

GS Battery is a leader in energy storage. GS batteries are manufactured to the highest standards and deliver high quality, long life and superior performance in a wide variety of mission-critical applications.

Littelfuse is a manufacturer of fuses and fuse holders specifically designed for the solar market. Understanding global codes and standards unique to the solar market, as well as product specifications required for the harsh environments, allows Littelfuse to provide a comprehensive range of circuit protection products.

Schletter is an internationally recognized manufacturer of solar mounting systems and design tools for residential, commercial and utility-scale PV applications. Schletter has globally designed, developed and produced solar mounting systems for more than 15 GW of installed module capacity on roofs and ground-mounted systems.

Stion is a leading manufacturer of high-efficiency thin-film solar modules. Stion is advancing the industry by dramatically improving the cost and performance of solar energy through superior manufacturing and R&D technology.

Tabuchi Electric is the world’s fifth largest solar inverter manufacturer. Globally diversified and listed on the NIKKEI, it has developed and manufactured state-of-the-art solar inverters for over 20 years.

Waaree Energies Ltd is the flagship company of Waaree Group, founded in 1989 with headquarters in Mumbai, India. It is a leading player in the solar energy space in India, as well as internationally. It has India’s largest solar PV module manufacturing capacity of 500 MW, being scaled up to 1000 MW by the end of 2015.

— Solar Builder magazine

VOTE: 2015 Solar Builder Project of the Year Awards — Ground-mounted

Charlton solar project of the yearCharlton Solar

Charlton, Mass.
Completed: Dec. 31, 2014
Size: 4.4-MW DC

Constrained by population densities and interconnection capacity, most optimal solar sites in the Northeast have already been developed, leaving more challenging landscapes necessitating site-specific designs. The 4.4-MW Charlton Solar plant in Massachusetts, one of two “managed growth” projects built in 2014 that required creative engineering and operational solutions. Steep slopes and a ledge needed blasting, complex drainage solutions were implemented to control storm water and innovative construction management enabled swift installation on undulating terrain. Despite challenges, Charlton Solar took just five months to complete after acquisition closing. Its success demonstrates solar’s readiness to curb surging energy costs in the region.

Developer: Nexamp
Contractor: Nexamp
Module: Yingli Solar
Inverter: AE Solar
Mounting: RBI Solar

Santa Ana Golf Club Solar Carport

Completed: April 30, 2015
Size: 250 kW

You’ve seen solar carports, probably many of them, but you haven’t seen solar carports like this. The Santa Ana Golf Club solar carport epitomizes the balance of form and function. This solar carport consists of two structures, each spanning 336-ft in length by 38-ft width, with a total of 840 310-watt solar modules and utilizes the solar modules to generate energy while simultaneously offering guests a shaded area to park their cars during the day. Twenty-eight steel columns span the structure, consisting of 26 bays, each with an LED light to softly light up the structure at night. The minimalist design, beautifully integrated Spanish-style steel corbels, locally sourced hand-fused glass emblems of the Santa Ana Golf Club logo and a custom color pallet create a seamless integration with the surrounding buildings.

“Our fundamental belief is that renewable energy systems should be both functional and aesthetically pleasing,” Osceola Energy said. “All too often we hear that ‘solar is ugly,’ and we stand to challenge that perception. Our motto is ‘solar so beautiful, you’ll want to show it off.’

Developer: Osceola Energy
Contractor: Osceola Energy
Module: Canadian Solar
Inverter: SMA – Sunny Tripower 15000TL-US, 24000TL-US
Module: S-Flex

Sunnyside Ranch Community Solar Array

Sunnyside Array PanoCarbondale, Colo.
Completed: April 30, 2015
Size: 1.79-MW

The Sunnyside Ranch Community Solar Array boasts a single-axis tracking system and is located adjacent to the now-capped Carbondale Landfill in the beautiful Roaring Fork Valley in Western Colorado. This community solar project was developed in conjunction with Holy Cross Energy, the local electric cooperative. Holy Cross customers purchase a percentage of the project and are credited on their electric bill for power generated by their portion of the array (and other gear, of course). The project sold out quickly to owners including Eagle County, Alpine Bank, the Town of Carbondale and several other participants. This community solar concept allows owners to generate power at a site with excellent solar access and with no visual issues. The project is maintained and insured by the developer, thus eliminating peripheral and long-term concerns. This model is being replicated throughout the U.S. and provides another avenue to participate in the solar electric solution.

Developer: Clean Energy Collective
Contractor: Sunsense Solar
Module: Hanwha SolarOne
Inverter: Solectria
Mounting: Array Technologies Inc.

USVI Solar I

USVI RFP Project PhotoSt. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Completed: Feb 2015
Size: 5 MW

USVI Solar I is the largest PV plant in the US Virgin Islands and is expected to generate approximately 7.9 million kWh of electricity annually. The array is the hallmark product of the island’s sole utility, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority’s (WAPA), sustainability initiative. The array is situated on a steep hill that was unusable for other development, and it utilized innovative ground screw technology to connect directly to the rock face of the hill. Additionally, the system uses a distributed string inverter architecture, with 96 separate inverters connected to 10 transformers. Since the array is located in an area prone to hurricanes, the smaller inverters will allow the site to remain online in the case of external or equipment faults. The project site is a challenging location to install a solar array due to the steep hillside terrain, as well as the island’s heavy rainfall and strong winds of approximately 195 mph. Because the project makes up a significant percentage of the generation connected to the local grid, additional studies were required to ensure the plant would not destabilize the grid. To overcome these obstacles, the group worked in close partnership with structural engineers, civil engineers and local authorities to develop products that could resist the extreme weather, prevent destabilization of the grid, and protect the site from erosion.

Developer: EPC: System 3
Contractor: ECO Innovations VI LLC
Modules: Aide Solar, Yingli Solar
Inverter: KACO
Mounting: RBI Solar

Clark Public Utilities Community Solar Project

Clark Public UtilitiesPortland, Oregon
Completed: July 2015
Size: 319 kW

Clark Public Utilities Community Solar Project allows customers who cannot or choose not to acquire PV systems on their own to purchase solar power directly from Clark Public Utilities. Participants funded the five solar projects via participation fees and in turn will receive all the benefits produced by the solar arrays. Participants will recoup their participation fee in the projects through Washington State incentives and annual energy credits in less than four years and afterward will continue to receive energy credits on their utility accounts. All residential customers of Clark Public Utilities were eligible to purchase a piece of the Community Solar Project and shares sold out on the first day. Based on demand, three more projects were developed and shares for all sold out in less than one month. One share of Community Solar is equal to 1/12 of a solar panel and cost $100. Customers could purchase one share or up to 100 shares.

Developer: Clark Public Utilities
Contractor: A & R Solar
Modules: Itek Energy
Inverter: Itek Energy
Mounting: SunModo Corp.

OneEnergy project of the year

View More: http://cotyjones.pass.us/bucktownsolar

Cambridge Solar

Cambridge, Maryland
Completed: May-15
Size: 4.3 MW

Cambridge Solar is one of the first of its kind to enable a leading non-profit institution to benefit from both the economic and environmental benefits of solar power. This innovative approach is rapidly gaining traction among commercial and industrial customers nationwide. The project delivered multiple benefits to the customer, the owner, the region and other stakeholders, including: • Long-term, fixed price procurement that supports sustainability commitments and goals aligned with the mission of the National Aquarium;
• Integration of a large-scale renewable energy project into a holistic energy plan for a large institution, encompassing retail energy services and energy efficiency improvements; and
• New electric generation capacity on the Eastern Shore bolstering resilience and reliability for the local electricity grid.

Developer: OneEnergy Renewables
Contractor: groSolar
Modules: Hanwha
Inverter: SMA-America
Mounting: Schletter

Or, check out the roof-mounted nominees

— Solar Builder magazine