On the Scene: 11 cool things we saw at Intersolar 2017

Another Intersolar has come and gone, but the product innovations, large and small, are here to stay. At least until next Intersolar. If you missed the event, or didn’t have time to see all three floors, here are some products that stood out to us in the exhibit hall.

1. This quick driveline disconnect

Array Technologies Duratrack

Array Technologies is the market leader in central drive solar trackers. Array tries to minimize parts count wherever it can (150 MW of PV only needing 150 components total), and we stopped by the booth to check out some of the handy new tweaks made to its DuraTrack HZ v3. In addition to a built-in above ground wiring component, we thought this quick disconnect driveline was a smart, simple improvement for those who have always wanted a streamlined way to move the driveline for maintenance activities.

2. This simple tile mounting system

Ecofasten simple tile

Ecofasten maybe wins our award for variety of new solutions packed into one booth at Intersolar. Many of these items aren’t fancy – like partnering with Unirac on an install kit (packs of 10) – but as most of the names suggest, they are simple, which is often even better. Like this new (so new it isn’t officially named) Rail-Based Tile System. The flashing itself replaces one complete tile, so no cutting, drilling or grinding there. After the stud and simple seal bushing are fastened to the tile base, place the flashing over, pound it with a hammer to form a hole over the stud and then install the L-foot with a bonded washer and nut.

3. An AC module power couple

LG enphase AC module

Details on this here.

4. The concept of ‘Microstorage’

JLM Energy

JLM Energy launched a new energy storage product category called MicroStorage — a battery pack that couples directly to a corresponding solar panel, as you see here. JLM says the advantage of its Phazr’s microstorage approach is that a single solar panel can concurrently charge a battery and deliver energy to the grid. The simultaneous nature of electron flow is unique to JLM’s patent-pending technology. The Phazr is designed for large scale solar plus storage applications, and is also perfectly suited for smaller residential and commercial installs.

5. A totally new approach to ground-mounts

Nuance Energy

This could be a gamechanger for ground-mount installations. Nuance Energy has a new solution, inspired by an old solution: anchoring. Nuance Energy wants to lessen the amount of steel needed on a site by not driving any into the ground at all. Using the pieces you see above, a hole is drilled, the anchor is driven down 40 inches into the soil and pulled by an uplift device. As the anchor turns and is pulled there is a natural ballasting that occurs using the earth itself. Utility poles are anchored using this strategy. This could drastically save on traditional installation, and even created a new “lift and shift” category, where a portable unit is fixed into place on a drilling or mining site and then removed once the project has ended.

6. This wall-mounted 100-kW inverter

solaredge

The combo EV charger / inverter maybe received the most buzz on the floor, but we gravitated to its new wall-mounted 100 kW inverter. Yes, a wall-mounted 100 kW inverter. This prewired three box setup looks like (and installs like) three string inverters, but is commissioned as one inverter. Installing 1 MW in half a day is a possibility.

7. The wire management on this tracker

SF7 Soltec Bluxome party

Soltec made a splash at Intersolar this year as it tries to do more business here in the U.S. There is a lot to like about their product, like the amount of panels you can mount in one row (which makes for a more energy dense field), but it was the little things that stood out most. Specifically how the wire management of the system is housed inside the torque tube.

8. The potential of this smart home device for solar installers

smappee solar storage

I have no live photo of this (it was the afternoon of Day 3 and I forgot — give me a break, already.) but the Smappee is the coolest thing we saw the entire week. Attach it to the cable coming into the house, and the Smappee will listen to everything – what’s turning on and off, how much standby power there is, how much PV is being generated, and on and on. This gives homeowners much deeper (and easy to follow) insight into their home energy consumption and, at the same time, provides solar installers another touch point for customer follow ups and service. The low price point (under $400) makes it potentially an easy first foot in the door. Right off the bat, a homeowner is likely to save 12 percent on their utility bill, just through awareness and optimization tips from the app. From there savings could approach 45 percent.

9. This stepped-up decentralized tracker

solar flexrack tracker turnkey

Solar FlexRack launched its TDP Turnkey Tracker about this time last year. The update for this year is a newer, longer single row tracker (90 modules with 2 to 4 more posts), adjusted by a larger motor that will open up larger, utility-scale projects. The torque tube is offset to achieve better balance. The attention to detail is big for Solar FlexRack, which is why “turnkey” is built into this product’s name – its slew of engineers are involved in their installations to avoid adding their company name to the list of growing tracker system failures out in the field.

10. This tripod tile mount

Sun Modo tile

Sun Modo tripod

The last few years has seen a flood of great tile roof mount solutions enter the market. The TopTile Mount that SunModo debuted at Intersolar is an entirely above-the-tile system – no need to deconstruct the tile roof. The tripod mounting stanchion can be mounted on a tile ridge independent of rafter position. This could cut your install time in half, compared to a more conventional approach.

11. Smart surge software

Tabuchi Americas

Now with a two-battery system setup, Tabuchi Americas continues to improve upon its solar+storage system (now more than 20,000 installs worldwide). Thanks to an integrated transfer switch, everything needed to get a PV + storage system up and running is included in the package, which means at least $1,000 soft cost savings over an unbundled system. In fact, this is one of the first UL 9540 certified systems – the certification specifically for solar + storage systems. Updates to the system’s intelligence has also improved its defenses against power surges from things like water pumps.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar FlexRack previews TDP 2.0 Turnkey Solar Tracker at Intersolar this week

Solar FlexRack, a division of Northern States Metals and a leader in solar tracker, mounting and project support services, will preview its new TDP 2.0 Turnkey Solar Tracker at Intersolar N.A, July 11-13.

Solar FlexRack New TDP 2 Solar Tracker with BalanceTrac

The TDP 2.0 Tracker’s new advanced design, BalanceTrac, increases solar power systems’ energy yields and reduces installation risks and costs. Bundled with project support services for commercial and utility-scale solar installations, Solar FlexRack’s next-generation solar tracker solution offers more modules per row, greater rotational range, and more granular programmable technology to mitigate inclement climatic conditions.

These are just a few of the design features of the cost-competitive new TDP 2.0 Tracker that translate to higher performance, greater system design flexibility and cost-savings across a solar project budget. The turnkey tracker solution is efficiently designed to reduce overall project risk.

Exhibiting at Booth #9617 of the Intersolar Exhibition Hall at Moscone West, the Solar FlexRack team is available to schedule private previews and offer a more in-depth overview of the new TDP 2.0 Tracker with BalanceTrac. Head here to schedule an appointment.

Intersolar North America Showcase: Here’s what to see at this year’s trade show

— Solar Builder magazine

Coldwell Solar to install 14-MW of Solar FlexRack trackers across 12 locations

Solar FlexRack announced its solar pipeline agreement of 14 MW to install their TDP™ Turnkey Solar Trackers in 12  installations in California for Coldwell Solar.

Solar FlexRack TDP Solar Trackers Installed in Coldwell Solar Agricultural Sites in California

Steve Daniel, EVP of Solar FlexRack said, “Coldwell Solar’s in-depth experience and proven track record has made them the top solar provider serving the agricultural market. Solar FlexRack is pleased to be selected as the supply partner for these solar projects.”

Agricultural operations benefit from distributed solar energy generation that can significantly reduce their electricity costs, stabilize rates and support energy independence. Solar FlexRack’s TDP Turnkey Tracker is an ideal solution for these types of projects. The TDP solar trackers include a full suite of project services and support ensuring projects avoid installation pitfalls. The TDP Tracker bundle ensures systems are constructed for long-term performance and reliability ultimately saving costs on solar project budgets.

“Coldwell Solar performs a thorough inspection of a property to determine the most appropriate, site-specific, solar solution that maximizes cost savings. Solar FlexRack’s TDP Turnkey Solar Trackers were the optimal solution for these agricultural installations ensuring successful projects”, said David Hood, CEO, Coldwell Solar.

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

— 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

2016 Editor’s Choice Projects of the Year: Beyond the Project Impact

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. Here is the third 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.

Previous Editor’s Choice posts

 

Calipatria Solar Power Plant

Calipatria-Project-3

Due to the flat terrain, low regional labor costs, high irradiance levels of the sun and support from local jurisdictions, this is an exceptional area for solar production. The Calipatria solar power plant reaps the advantages of the area and contributes to local economies through employment, tax revenues and local business services support. But, even cooler, San Diego Gas and Electric recognized Solar Frontier Americas for exceeding their supplier diversity goals while working on Calipatria. The California Public Utility Commission has set a goal for the state’s investor-owned utilities to procure at least 21.5 percent of their expenses, including electric and fuel costs, with Diverse Business Enterprises (DBEs). DBEs include women-, minority-, service-disabled veteran- and LGBT-owned businesses. San Diego Gas and Electric encourages power project developers to subcontract with DBEs during development and construction as well.

Location: Calipatria, Calif.

Size: 21.99 MW DC

Completed: February 2016

Developer: Solar Frontier Americas Development LLC

Contractor: DEPCOM Power

Modules: Solar Frontier

Inverters: Bonfiglioli

Mounting: Clavijo Single-Axis Tracker


 

Pahrump Solar Project

PahrumpProject_Uneven-Terrain

This project required collaboration by Valley Electric Association, Bombard Renewable Energy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Mojave Desert tortoises discovered at the project site. Key to this was the project’s racking system from Solar FlexRack. Because of the versatility of the racking system, all the special onsite requirements to protect the tortoises’ habitat were able to be met. The project is a milestone example of balancing the construction of a renewable energy project and protecting the indigenous wildlife, particularly in this case — the desert tortoise. It demonstrates how development, construction and wildlife conservation can work together to achieve mutual environmental goals.

parhupLocation: Pahrump, Nev.

Size: 17.5 MW

Completed: July 2016

Developer: Valley Electric Association

Contractor: Bombard Renewable Energy

Modules: SolarWorld

Inverters: Yaskawa-Solectria Solar

Mounting: Solar FlexRack

— Solar Builder magazine