This solar mounting system from SunModo anchors entirely above roof tiles

TopTile sunmodo

Professional solar installers no longer need to grimace when considering a risk-laden solar PV installation on tile roofs. Referenced in our latest Mounting Guide issue, SunModo’s TopTile Mount System conveniently anchors solar racking entirely above the tiles, which spares the installer needing to disrupt tiles, remove battens, damage underlayment, or leave leak-prone holes or fasteners.

The TopTile Mount System features three mounting options that secure panels 4-7 inches above the tile surface, using stanchions with water-proof sealing washers and moldable flashing. Installers can choose either SunModo’s patented deck mounting system when anchoring into decks or a rafter mounting system. The system can also be mounted to a flat concrete surface. The system works on concrete, clay, stone, fiberglass or rubber tile roofs, in accordance with ICC building codes.

sunmodo toptile mount

“Our TopTile system makes it easy for installers to pursue tile roof installations because they no longer have to bear the cost and risk of tearing apart tile roofs,” said Stella Sun, Marketing Director of SunModo Corp. “This innovative solution is destined to become an industry standard with application on more than 90 percent of tile roof environments.”

SunModo TopTile Mount Systems are part of a complete line of racking and mounting options available through leading distributors or directly from the company at www.sunmodo.com. Samples are available and will be on display at leading solar shows.

SunModo is a private U.S. company headquartered in Vancouver, Wash., that is focused on innovative racking and mounting solutions for professional installers in the fast-growing solar industry. Energized by a desire to make solar installation easier, more reliable and more affordable, its solar racking solutions are at work in 15 countries, and from Hawaii to Connecticut.

sunmodo top tile specs

— Solar Builder magazine

The Replacements: These solar mounts for tile rooftops cut labor costs, avoid OSHA issues

Quick Mount PV’s Tile Replacement Mount

It’s always reassuring when solar technology moves faster than a federal regulator, even if it is a well-intentioned agency like the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In this recent case, a new crop of solar tile replacements that support rooftop mounting systems are eliminating the need for drilling, grinding or sawing cement tiles, an activity that generates harmful dust for workers when not controlled carefully.

Stuck in the Middle

OSHA came down with a new silica rule (29 CFR 1926.55, 1910.1000) in October that limits worker exposure to 50 micrograms of silica dust per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour time-weighted average. Penny-wise-and-pound-foolish solar companies that still choose the cheapest tile hooks requiring them to saw or drill cement tiles now must monitor worker exposure to silica dust and mitigate exposure through practices including mask use, wet-cutting and dust collection. Other more forward-looking solar companies will simply opt for the new tech and cut their BOS labor costs for a net job gain.

Sawing or drilling concrete roof tiles was the standard for installing rooftop PV mounting systems up until a few years ago. Now a number of tile replacement manufacturers say that their products are no more costly than most old-design tile hooks, are faster to install and save a roof tile at every penetration point. Saving tiles for an older roof is no small event. Cement tile costs around $7 per square foot, when a replacement with the same shape can be found, much less with matching fade.

“I’m not sure how much the new OSHA rules will drive the tile replacement mounting market or affect it, because the market will change more as companies see the benefits of saving time and cost,” reckons Andrew Wickham, the marketing manager for SnapNrack Solar Mounting Solutions.

SnapNrack’s tile replacement

SnapNrack’s tile replacements feature a base assembly for simply lagging the base into place and then sliding the riser shaft into position for the tile replacement flashing.

Color Me Impressed

Several replacement tile mount manufacturers suggest that their cement tile replacement product goes on faster than tile sawing or drilling.

“We are a bit more expensive than hooks, but there is far less labor,” says Jordan Pacheco, the director of product management at Pegasus Solar. “An installer that is grinding tiles might use four crews of five men, but we can do five crews of four men with our Lightspeed Tile Replacement.”

The U.S. market for rail-less residential solar mounting systems, the Pegasus specialty, is expected to grow by 67 percent from $240 million in 2016 to $400 million by 2022, according to GTM Research. The Pegasus tile replacement system, available in rail or rail-less mounting configurations, has undergone several refinements in design since it initially launched in 2014.

“The tile replacement technology is definitely faster, and some studies say 20 percent faster than grinding,” says Stri Zulch, the vice president of marketing at Quick Mount PV.

In a time trial in 2016, Quick Mount conducted an in-house test with three different products. The trials were conducted on a test roof, with eight mounts installed for each trial. The installers were third-party contractors, and Quick Mount PV timed and monitored the trials.

“Results showed that the Tile Replacement Mount was 26 percent faster than the Universal Tile Mount and 22 percent faster than Quick Hook,” the company reports. “The Tile Replacement Mount eliminates the need to cut tiles, resulting in the Tile Replacement Mount saving time. Although, there are a number of variables that affect installation times, the Tile Replacement Mount will save on average a minute per mount.”

Quick Mount PV’s Tile Replacement Mount

Quick Mount PV’s Tile Replacement Mounts feature its patented Elevated Water Seal Technology for optimal waterproofing

Quick Mount’s Tile Replacement Mount comes with a 25-year warranty and features a universal base mount, which works with three flashing profiles including a flat tile, S-shaped tiles and W-shaped curved tiles.

“Once you see more of these large-scale installs, it will drive the market for tile replacements,” says Brandon Gwinner, the western region sales manager for SunModo. One of his customers using SunModo’s tile replacement on a large cement tile project in Hawaii with 2,800 support points, reports cutting project labor costs in half — with no tile breakage.

The SunModo tile replacement can be attached either by a single bolt into a rafter, like most tile replacement designs, or by four screws into the sheathing, in cases where a rafter is not reachable. The industry is now trending toward the sheathing-attached method since it is more reliable and is now proven, Gwinner notes. While his company specifies no less than 1/2-in. oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing, many home builders or roofers opting for cement tiles are upgrading the sheathing by using thicker OSB, if not structural-grade 5-ply plywood, he notes.

Here Comes a Regular

After the construction downturn resulting from the recession in 2008, roofing is on an upturn and expected to reach a global value of $95 billion by 2024, according to a September report by Global Industry Analysts.

Cement tile is the fastest growing segment of the global roofing market, with an estimated combined average growth rate of close to 7 percent by 2020, according to a recent study by Technavio. Recent hurricanes and other adverse weather have helped demonstrate the durability of cement tiles over asphalt shingles and over clay tiles, which are much lighter than cement tiles.

In the U.S. South and Southwest, where daily temperature highs and lows range widely, and air conditioning is a major use of electricity, cement tiles are a favorite because they can be used for cool roofs as well as for evening heat retention.

Tile replacements for cement tiles already are highly waterproof and manufactured with formable aluminum. But cement tiles also are evolving via nanotechnology. Nanotech coatings for cement tiles will provide additional benefits for protection against heat, mold, mildew, fungus and algae, according to Global Industry Analysts.

Overall, signs indicate that the U.S. adoption rate for tile replacements should accelerate. However, at the heart of the market is installer awareness and preference. “For the market to grow, installers will need more education about the advantages of tile replacements,” suggests Stella Sun, the marketing director for SunModo.

Charles Thurston is a freelance writer covering solar energy from Northern California. He is not to blame for all of the Replacements song references.

— Solar Builder magazine

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

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

APsystems: True three-phrase microinverters

APsystems YC1000

APsystems boasts an industry best-selling 3-phase solar microinverter and the industry’s first true 3-phase (phase-balanced & phase-monitored) unit, the YC1000-3. This model handles 208V or 277Y/480V grid voltages with 900 watts maximum output, 95 percent peak efficiency and comes with ZigBee communication and integrated ground. At 480V up to 11 units (44 modules total, 60- or 72-cell) can be linked in a single 15A circuit, and up to 14 solar modules (7x YC500s) in a string with a 20A breaker. Designed to operate from -40 F to 149 F degrees. Ten and 25-year warranties are available. Booth 9245.

Boviet Solar: Debuting two new solar modules

Boviet Solar

A new 290-W, 60-cell polycrystalline diamond-cut PERC solar module is one of the newest products from Boviet Solar’s full PERC production line completed in 2016. Also on display will be the new 300-W monocrystalline PERC Smart Module designed to harvest 25 percent more energy. In addition to free, 24-hour monitoring per module, the Smart Module also has module-level voltage shutdown to offer greater installer and firefighter safety. Booth 8317.

Ciel et Terre: Making floating PV happen in the U.S.

hydrelio floating solar

Ciel et Terre has completed large-scale floating PV systems in various market applications and countries, showcasing FPV as a real alternative to traditional PV in roof-top and ground-mounted systems. In the past year, the organization increased its U.S. reach with its first public utility project in Orlando, alongside its local Florida representative D3 Energy and in partnership with the Orlando Utilities Commission. Ciel et Terre installed a 31.5-kWp floating solar system on the OUC’s storm water storage reservoir, a dead water space at the facility, and is expected to generate up to 51,000 kWh per year. Booths 9744 and 9745.

Eaton: Control system to simplify microgrid deployment

Eaton microgrid system

Designed for critical applications requiring secure, efficient and reliable power, Eaton’s newest solution is engineered to deploy stand-alone power systems using existing and new assets with the adaptability to easily meet future needs. The system incorporates Eaton’s new Power Xpert energy optimizer controller and provides a modular, scalable approach to microgrid control, as well as accompanying services, such as microgrid feasibility studies, total system design, control system deployment, integration with existing third-party generation assets and critical loads, project implementation, commissioning and system start-up, and ongoing maintenance. Booth 8310.

EcoFasten Solar: New standing seam metal roofing application

EcoFasten

EcoFasten Solar has launched its newest product, SimpleBlock, a solution designed specifically for standing seam metal roofing applications. The versatile SimpleBlock provides a variety of options through compatibility with any rack manufacturer’s connection points (L-feet, posts), and will fit any double-lock standing seam. When used in conjunction with EcoFasten’s Mid-Clamp, SimpleBlock becomes a rail-free racking system featuring integrated bonding. The system meets and exceeds all known building codes and is UL 2703 listed, with product compliance determined through rigorous, uncompromised testing per UL 2703: First Edition. Due to such an overwhelming response to this innovative system, EcoFasten Solar is gearing up for high volume manufacturing to meet industry demand and will also be unveiling additional configurations for more seam options soon. Booth 9433.

Fronius: Offering its next generation solar solution

Fronius

Fronius introduces its next generation of solar systems to the industry, the Fronius Smart Solution. This satisfies all needs for residential and commercial systems: flexible system design, shade mitigation, NEC compliance, high performance and state-of-the art monitoring while keeping the number of components low and installation easy. The Fronius Smart Solution combines the benefits of traditional MLPE such as microinverters or DC optimizers with the ease of installation and cost-effectiveness of string inverters. The Fronius Smart Solution is the combination of cell-string optimized modules, the Fronius Rapid Shutdown Box, a Fronius SnapINverter, the optional Fronius Smart Meter and the Fronius Solar.web online monitoring portal. Check it out for yourself at the Fortune Energy booth. Booth 8519.

Heyco: A solution for every cable need

Heyco solar clips

Heyco’s new Edge Clips are ideal for use where holes cannot be used and adhesives are not acceptable due to temperature issues. If these won’t work, check out Heyco’s new SunRunner Vidrios, which are designed to mount directly onto the glass panel with compression force only — perfect for frameless PV modules. If neither of those pique your interest, check out Heyco’s SunBundler. Though not new to Heyco’s offering, the Heyco SunBundler has been receiving a lot of attention due to its 20 year warranty and unique design. Check them out at the CED Greentech booth. Booth 8311.

Ideal Power: The latest in power conversion innovation

Ideal Power

Ideal Power’s newest Stabiliti Series power conversion system is a grid-resilient 30-kW advanced power conversion system for system integrators and project developers who need to efficiently connect distributed energy resources to the grid. Stabiliti is the next generation of Ideal Power’s patented Power Packet Switching Architecture (PPSA) technology and incorporates numerous new features and benefits for commercial and industrial customers. The Stabiliti Series is available in two versions: dual port AC-DC bi-directional and multi-port AC-DC-DC bi-directional. Ideal Power’s John Merritt will be speaking on July 10 from 12-12.30 p.m. at the ‘‘Islands, Mini-Grids, Microgrids & Energy Storage’’ session. His talk will explain how solar-plus-storage systems can become microgrid-enabled with multi-port conversion technologies, creating energy resilience and reducing reliance on backup generators. Booth 8110.

JLM Energy: Patent-pending ‘microstorage’ technology

JLM Energy Phazr

Phazr, the first in JLM’s MicroStorage family of products, is mounted seamlessly behind the solar panel. Phazr is designed for large-scale, solar-plus-storage applications and is also perfectly suited for smaller residential and commercial installs. The simultaneous nature of electron flow is unique to JLM’s patent-pending technology. This is included in JLM’s energy technology bundle and is operated by Measurz software, which continually observes energy usage patterns and utilizes a variety of strategies to maintain a pre-set budget determined by the customer. Booth 8134.

Pika Energy: Partnership with Panasonic on solar smart battery

Pika_MAY17_006_web

Panasonic Eco Solutions North America and U.S.-based inverter manufacturer Pika Energy Inc. are partnering to offer a DC-coupled solar smart battery — Harbor 10P/15P — that will begin shipping in late 2017 and is available for pre-order today. The solar-ready Harbor Smart Battery combines Panasonic’s Lithium-Ion battery modules and Pika Energy’s power electronics in a slim, floor-standing, wall-mounted enclosure to provides 10 kWh or 15 kWh of usable energy and up to 6.7 kW of continuous power. Booth 8318.

Preformed Line Products: Speeding up rail-less mounting

Preformed Line Products

Maneuvering mounting rails can be the most demanding part of installing rooftop solar modules. But now installers can avoid that — and mount modules faster and easier — with the POWER DISK rail-less mounting system from Preformed Line Products. POWER DISK is a unique roof attachment that can go anywhere on residential rooftops. It does not need to be secured to rafters. Install solar modules in four simple steps: 1. Snap chalk lines. 2. Mount POWER DISK bases anywhere on the roof deck. 3. Set solar modules in place. 4. Spin the disks to vertically adjust height to roof undulations. Booth 9449.

Quick Mount: New series for comp/asphalt shingle roofs

Quick Mount

Quick Mount PV engineered its patented Elevated Water Seal Technology into an integrated L-foot and flashing for cost-effective, super-fast, single-bolt installation with unparalleled waterproofing. The L-Mount Series comes in single- and double-slot options for maximum versatility and works with all leading racks. L-Mounts are designed for simple lag-bolt installation onto existing composition/asphalt shingle roofs. The L-Mount features a 9-in. by 12-in. aluminum flashing with alignment notches and rounded corners to easily slide under shingles and speed installation. No shingle cutting required. Like all Quick Mount PV products, the L-Mount meets or exceeds roofing industry best practices and comes with a 25-year warranty. Available in mill or black finish. Booth 9411.

RBI Solar: Ground mount, ballasted, roof mount and canopy solutions

RBI solar Logo

RBI Solar is one of the top turn-key solar mounting solutions suppliers in the United States for ground mount, ballasted landfills, roof mounts and canopy/carport structures. As a single-source provider for commercial and utility-scale PV projects, all responsibility for the design, engineering, manufacturing and installation of the most efficient PV Racking systems in the marketplace is completed in-house by the RBI Solar Team. Committed to providing value from conception to completion, RBI Solar’s customers receive cost-effective and durable racking solutions for each project site to aide in reducing the overall project costs. Booth L9008.

SimpliPhi: Plug-and-play storage

SimpliPhi - AccESS - 300 DPI

Developed in partnership with installers, SimpliPhi Power’s AccESS has been installed in a variety of locations, including a commercial “glamping” resort, Flying Flags, and is positioned for hundreds of residential installations in partnership with Civic Solar’s SGIP projects. The AccESS provides power security that is safe, reliable, non-hazardous and efficient. The fully integrated solution includes the SimpliPhi award-winning battery technology, Schneider Electric inverter charge controller, associated power electronics and overall system management. Pre-programmed software settings and performance monitoring complete the solution. Booth 8124.

Smappee Plus: New advanced energy monitoring

Smappee Plus

Now entering the U.S. solar market, Smappee Plus is the latest innovation from Smappee’s burgeoning energy monitoring solutions which have seen widespread adoption across Europe since 2012. The product combines Smappee’s patented NILM (Non-Intrusive Load Monitoring) technology with submetering clamps to measure real-time energy use from appliances throughout a user’s home including those with variable output or similar energy consumption patterns, giving previously undetectable transparency to energy use. Head to the Impress Lounge across the street from the Moscone Center for more info.

Solar-Log: Enhanced PV monitoring portal allows for more installer services

solar log pv monitoring

Solar-Log’s new WEB Enerest is an enhanced PV monitoring portal that works in combination with Solar-Log’s data loggers to offer better monitoring and more efficient optimization of solar power usage. The new Solar-Log WEB Enerest portal is available in three different service levels and price classes to respond even more precisely to the differing needs of individual customer groups. The most advanced XL package allows installers and service providers to centrally monitor their entire fleet from one portal. This premium version provides near real-time visualization of plant error messages which can be quickly evaluated and managed. The portal allows the operator to remotely configure the Solar-Log®device, customize the portal design, and define plant owners’ access to the yield and plant information. Automated reports, integrated weather data comparison and the option to combine several plants with one account are just some of the comprehensive functions. Booth 9121.

SunModo: Debuting new solar awnings to shield windows, generate energy

sunmodo awning

The concept is simple: Replace traditional metal and fabric awnings with solar-power-generating panels that provide necessary protection from the elements while also replacing traditional electricity usage. That concept is coming to the marketplace as the SunShield awning system. It is being introduced by SunModo, a company that makes durable, easy-to-install professional racking systems. The SunShield awning system features a durable triangular aluminum frame as structural truss; and expands to a 35-degree tilt angle once installed. This compact triangle frame design easily accommodates both 60 and 72 cell solar panels. What’s more, SunShield opens the awning industry to 30 percent tax credits and provides a substantial new canvas for solar power generation. Booth 9539.

Tabuchi America: Expanded storage capacity

Tabuchi

Originally launched in the United States at Intersolar 2015, Tabuchi America is debuting the 2nd generation model of its Eco Intelligent Battery System (EIBS). Tabuchi’s all-in-one, easy-to-install system includes a 5.5-kW solar inverter and stackable 6-kWh lithium-ion batteries. The Tabuchi EIBS has the intelligence to maximize a homeowner’s savings in real time across different electricity tariffs. This DC-coupled system will meet advanced inverter requirements and will be 9540 compliant. Booth 8121.

Trojan Battery: AGM battery designed for solar installs

Trojan Battery

Trojan Battery Co. is launching a new line of maintenance-free, true deep-cycle absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries specifically designed for solar and other renewable energy applications. The new Trojan Solar AGM line is manufactured in the U.S. Offering a three-year warranty for stationary applications, and tested to an eight-year design life under IEC 61427 standard for solar batteries, this initial release includes a wide range of Trojan Solar AGM models. With its non-spillable design, the new Trojan Solar AGM batteries enable installers to customize the use and position of the batteries in customer applications. Booth 8128.

— Solar Builder magazine

We look at the pros and cons of rail and rail-less PV mounting systems

Quick Mount PV’s E-Mount Lag

Photo: Quick Mount PV’s E-Mount Lag

Should you go with a rail or rail-less PV mounting system on your next installation? Depending on who you ask, you will get strong opinions for both. I liken the choice to dieting. Don’t eat meat! Actually, don’t eat carbs! No, it’s sugar that’s the killer! Milk is bad! You need milk!

The commonality here, at least to me, is everyone is right, and no one is right. What works for one person or project may not work for another, and maybe the answer is a little bit of all of the above. The real key is knowing what you need, what you prefer and the attributes of your available choices.

All systems have their pluses and minuses, and depending on the job at hand or your business plan, either could be the right solution for you and your customers. So, when, where and why would you go in one direction or another?

Reasons for Rails

For starters, it is easier to start. Rails involve a lower learning curve. You can get a crew trained on system installation fairly quick, and part of the reason for this is a more forgiving layout. SunModo, which offers all types of systems, says that on a straight-forward roof, your layout time is reduced.

“Our railed systems are flexible to accommodate complicated roof conditions and crooked roofs,” says Stella Sun, marketing director for SunModo. Its EZ Roof Mount can accommodate both rafter and decking applications.

The most ideal applications, according to Jason Xie, president at Magerack, is a large, simple array layout or a crooked roof. “A roof with a lot of obstacles — vents, stack, etc. — can present issues,” Xie says.

Look for low to moderately pitched roof applications in the 8 to 44 degrees range. Railed systems will require more engineering on steep slope pitched roof applications, 45 degrees or greater, according to SunModo.

“All rackless systems don’t use rails. That’s a time savings, but if the number of attachments is higher, if the parts costs are higher, or if there are still fiddly little parts that need adjustment, the overall costs are higher — not lower,” says Barry Cinnamon, founder of Spice Solar. “Installers should carefully account for all parts, including roof attachments.”

Some of the benefits aren’t inherent in the general rail system, but have been built in to select products. PV Racking, for example, has eliminated the need for clamps on the roof, which increases the speed of installation and save 20 to 30 percent in labor time. Its elongated L-Foot allows for faster and easier rail alignment too.

Reasons to Share

Shared rail solutions use rail to hold the modules in place, but reduce components elsewhere, such as mid and end clamps. As Shane Shamoo, president of Solar Speedrack, explains it, shared rail systems cover the entire side of the module, and the module frame becomes “bonded” to the rails and reduces the strain on the module.

“Because the rails are shared, a two-up installation would require only three rails as compared to four for a standard mid and end clamp system,” he says. This provides its own unique nimbleness for either landscape or portrait installations on all roof types. Shared rail also requires fewer roof penetrations, lessening the potential of a “floating” penetration.

SunModo says shared rail is great when modules are in landscape and the rail has to be run E-W and you cannot clamp to the short sides of the module, or when the rail has to be run N-S and the module must be in portrait. Less than ideal shared rail applications would be those with sagging trusses, uneven shingles, uneven roof framing or any other situation that would cause difficulty creating perfectly level rows of rail.

“Since we offer a shared rail system that does not require clamps, the first rail automatically aligns the first row of panels, which eliminates the need to straighten panels and speeds up the installation,” says Devin Paris of PV Racking’s shared rail system. Some systems come with rail spacers to allow for fast and easy spacing between the rails, eliminating the need to pull a measurement between each rail.

Reasons for Rail-less

As you might expect, the benefits of a rail-less solution come from not having rails. I know, I really blew the cover off that one, but it’s worth understanding those benefits: Rail-less products are compact, easy to handle and cheaper to ship.

“A rail-less system provides the suppliers the opportunity to cut manufacturing and shipping costs, and the installers are limiting time on the roof with fewer components to handle and install,” SunModo noted.
Milton Nogueira, business development manager with Roof Tech, notes that it is easier to handle any increments of PV modules, which also opens up more possibilities such as any pitched roof top with asphalt roofing, roofs with less space or roofs with lots of obstacles.

Rail-less mounting can be much quicker, but installers must know what they are doing as there can be a steeper learning curve.

Rail-less is also good for mounting in landscape, but less ideal for portrait orientation, says SunModo. Xie recommends avoiding rail-less on crooked roofs, higher wind areas and tile roofs. Nogueira says he would avoid discrepant roof surfaces with variations over 1 in. You’ll always want to consider the extra attachment points you are adding — the more attachment points, the lower the point load and the less impact on the attachment due to thermal contraction and expansion.

 

System Profiles: Residential Rooftop

SunModo Sundock Rail-free anchor system

SunModo Sundock Rail-free anchor systemThe SUNDOCK Rail-free system offers universal end and mid clamps, which reduce inventory, and allows for snapping in the downslope panel edge as installers work their way up the roof. This means no more reaching over modules to tighten the mid clamps. Finally, the system offers post-module assembly leveling for height adjustments after the modules are installed.

  • Material: Aluminum and stainless steel
  • Flashing included? Yes
  • Certifications: UL 2703 (Pending)
  • Warranty: 20-year

Roof Tech’s E Mount AIR (Gen II)

Roof Tech’s E Mount AIR (Gen II)The E Mount AIR Gen II, has improved features from its predecessor such as IBC 2015 and IRC 2015 compliance, increased warranty terms, fewer parts count, preassembled clamp kit, higher level of adjustability, PE stamped letters and an integrated flashing system. They are fastened with wood screws for direct deck attachment. Roof Tech systems are 100 percent weatherproof certified by the International Code Council Evaluation Services for durability and water resistance and can be installed in about half the time when compared to a conventional lag/rail system, according to the company.

  • Material: Anodized aluminum
  • Flashing included? Yes
  • Certifications: UL 2703, ASTM 2140, ICC ESR-3575
  • Warranty: 20-year

PV Racking’s PV Stealth

PV Racking’s PV StealthPV Stealth is designed with ease and flexibility in mind. Its “clamp-free” design allows for a faster installation of panels, fewer parts and vertical and horizontal adjustability. The big pitch from PV Racking is to remove clamps from the equation and simply lay your panels into place.

  • Material: 6000 series aluminum
  • Flashing included? Optional
  • Certifications: CSA UL 2703
  • Warranty: 15-year

Everest’s CrossRail Shared Rail System

Everest’s CrossRail Shared Rail SystemCrossRail Shared Rail uses fewer rail resulting in fewer roof attachments. This means you can save money on labor, material and reduce time on the roof. To simplify installation, its Slider Kit provides North-South adjustability for easy module alignment. In addition, its structural Rail Connectors allows for safe and quick preassembly of rails on the ground. As an integrated grounding system, CrossRail Shared Rail only requires one lug per sub-array.

  • Material: Aluminum, stainlesssteel hardware
  • Flashing included? With EverFlash Kits
  • Certifications: UL listed
  • Warranty: 12-year

Solar Speedrack’s HRS160 Hybrid Racking System

Solar Speedrack’s HRS160 Hybrid Racking System The HRS160 Hybrid Racking design allows the installer to mount the rails in standard or shared rail configurations. This paired with its Solar SpeedFoot, a non-penetrating solar roof mount, yields increased savings on solar installations. The Solar SpeedRack focus is fewer roof penetrations and reduced components for faster install times.

  • Material: Various materials
  • Flashing included? Optional
  • Certifications: UL 2703, UL 1703, PE Certified
  • Warranty: 20-year limited

MageMount Rail-less Solar Mounting System

MageMount Rail-less Solar Mounting SystemThis system has separate components for module connections and roof attachments. The roof attachment solutions cover all roof types including composition shingle roof, tile roof, stone-coated steel tile roof, etc. All mounting components, including roof attachments, are self-bonded and grounded with one grounding lug. The system is flexible, making it easy to adjust the roof attachments’ lateral position and module height.

  • Material: Aluminum alloy, stainless steel
  • Flashing included? Yes
  • Certifications: UL 2703 and Class A Fire Rating
  • Warranty: 25-year limited

— Solar Builder magazine