Keep it simple, solar: Advice and products to streamline your next rooftop install

Keep part counts low

solar roof hook

The Low Profile QuickBOLT with Microflashing from SolarRoofHook can be installed in less than 60 seconds, and the key is its Microflashing technology, which is installed on top of the shingles and eliminates the need to pry apart shingles and shove oversized aluminum flashing underneath.

“We would like to see installers move away from the old-school aluminum flashing method and replace that with Microflashing technology,” said Samantha Dalton, marketing manager for SolarRoofHook. “Using Microflashing reduces installers risk too. When installers are forced to separate shingles to install aluminum flashing, they often must remove nails from the roof. This leaves open penetrations in the roof, as well as leads them to risk voiding the roofing warranty and breaking code. Microflashing doesn’t pose those same risks and bonds with the roofing material to create a watertight seal.”

Quick Mount debuts new full rooftop rail system

 Quick Mount QRail

Quick Mount PV is simplifying your supply chain with QRail, its new rooftop racking system featuring patented QClick and QSplice technologies that simplify and speed installation. QRail combines with Quick Mount PV’s waterproof mounts to create a complete, fully-integrated racking and mounting solution for installing solar PV modules on any roof.

The patented QClick technology enables module clamps to easily click into the rail channel and remain in an upright position, ready to accept the module. QRail’s QSplice is the fastest, most efficient splice in the industry — a tool-free, bonded, fully-structural splice that installs in seconds with no extra hardware required.
Electrical bonding is fully integrated into every system component. All electrical bonds are created when the components are installed and tightened down. QRail is fully code compliant, certified to UL 2703, and backed by a 25-year warranty.

Pre-assembly

Magerack,

As a best practice, Jason Xie, president of Magerack, recommends assembling components on the ground as much as possible and avoiding assembling tiny components such as rubber washers on the roof.

For example, Magerack solar mounting components don’t contain any rubber components and all components are pre-assembled out of box. Magerack roof attachment doesn’t need any rubber washer and has no tiny components except pre-assembled fasteners. The two major components of MageMount MageMount II Rail-less Solar Mounting System, module connector and module brackets, can be assembled to the solar module on the ground before moving them on the roof. Module connectors are used to connect and secure two adjacent solar modules along the same row or between two rows. Those connectors and the roof attachments can be attached anywhere along the module edge where they are needed the most.

Look to kits

Unirac’s SunFrame Microrail

Consider systems where only a single tool is required for installation. Take Unirac’s SunFrame Microrail or the new Pro Series SM for example. Parts come pre-assembled out of the box making for a quick and easy install on the roof. There is no need to fumble with loose parts and pieces. Parts can be pulled from the box and can be put straight to use.

“One tool installation saves time on the roof, eliminating the chance of dropping tools while changing sockets,” says Anthony Romero, lead trainer for Unirac.

The SM Pro Series features module agnostic mid and end clamps. The end clamps secure the module while staying beneath the module. Arrays look very clean and appealing without any rail or hardware protruding. The mid clamps come pre-assembled and are self-standing. They also come coated with anti-seize to prevent galling and breaking stainless steel bolts. Unirac’s FlashKit Pro comes in a pack of 10 with flashing, L-Feet, T-bolts and lag bolts in one convenient box. Having everything in one package helps cut down on the amount of packaging needed on the roof. They are the easiest flashing kit to count, kit and carry to the roof.

SKU reduction

SunRunner 4 clip

The SunRunner 4 clip from Heyco was developed to reduce the number of SKUs for an installer. For those using a mix of SolarEdge and Enphase, this clip will handle both types of cable. The SunRunner 4 clips directly onto the PV module frame and holds up to four SolarEdge cables or up to three Enphase Q cables comfortably. The SunRunner 4 takes the guesswork out of ordering the correct clip as it holds both types of cable. Heyco also manufactures top rail clips with the exact same clip design as its SunRunner 4 for top racking manufacturers like Unirac, IronRidge, and Everest. This universal design allows the clips to be used on a wider range of installations and reduce the number of SKUs (and headaches) for installers. Heyco also offers a series of nylon UVX clips which qualify for its 20-year warranty and are generally 20 percent less expensive than their stainless steel equivalents.

— Solar Builder magazine

Creative financing completes 530-kW solar + storage install at San Diego retirement community

Paradise Village Retirement solar

Generations LLC added an expansive 527.8 kW photovoltaic (PV) solar + storage system on its resort style independent, assisted living and memory care community, Paradise Village, in San Diego’s South Bay. Combining solar with a behind the meter energy storage system, the energy enhancing project will produce approximately 1 million kWh of electricity per year, approximately 40 percent of the campus’ annual electricity usage. In addition, an estimated cost savings of $250,000 in both regular and peak demand usage will be provided from the hybrid solar and low-cost battery storage system.

Financing details

Generations LLC and NW Photon Energy (NWPE), both of Portland, Ore., partnered on the pro-ject which has been in development for three years. According to Kirk Cameron, President of NW Photon Energy, this project became viable as a result of four key factors.

1. The foremost was a healthy ROI with a payback of less than 5 years.
2. Helping Paradise Village gain control of its energy expenses and eliminate rising utility in-creases was the second factor.
3. Paradise Village’s qualification for a CPUC Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) rebate covered approximately 5 percent of the total project cost and
4. The final factor was Generation’s 10-year refinance of a previous $82 million construction loan through Fannie Mae’s Green Rewards program – the first Green Rewards loan backed by a sen-ior housing property. This refinance provided exceptional terms and a reduced interest rate which contributed to the aggressive ROI.

RELATED: Solving C&I Solar: How boutique financing is growing this underserved solar segment

According to Chip Gabriel, President of Development for Generations LLC, the business case for solar was clear to them from both a financial and environmental sense.

“With a large percentage of a residential housing community’s operating expenses originating from its energy usage, a sustainable approach to property management is crucial for the long term,” says Gabriel. “Adding solar was not only a financial decision but also one framed by the environmental impact that taking care of more than 400 residents creates.”

Generation’s commitment to solar is a continued example of their foresight and approach to property management. They have identified solar as a means to leverage underutilized roof space to improve operating efficiencies for their buildings.

The next phase in Generations’ energy management plan involves identifying additional solar project opportunities. The company recently contracted a third solar system to be installed by NW Photon Energy at its Linfield Village senior living community in Temecula, California.

Paradise Village System Overview

System General Contractor: NW Photon Energy
Solar System Installer: Horizon Solar Power (San Diego, CA)
Location: National City, CA
Layout: 394 units in seven four-story residential buildings
Array Capacity: 527.8 kW
Number of Panels: 1,466
Average Annual Production: 1,000,000 kWh
Tile Roof Mounting/Racking System: Quick Rack Rail-Free Mounting Systems
Flat Roof Mounting/Racking Systems: UniRac Ballast Flat Mount and Iron Ridge Attached

BTM Energy Storage System: Sharp Electronics Corporation’s Energy Systems and Services Group’s (Sharp ESSG’s) SmartStorage System. Capacity: 240 kW/324 kWh

— Solar Builder magazine

Unirac debuts shared rail version of its Ground Fixed Tilt system

GFT Shared Rail Pro Clamps 4

Unirac, Inc. has launched a shared rail version of its Ground Fixed Tilt (GFT), an engineered system of standard ground mount components supported by North America’s largest ground mount distribution network. The new shared rail design delivers enhanced system and labor optimization for maximum productivity.

Unirac’s commercial project support makes construction easy, from permitting through installation, including region-specific engineering and documentation. Kitted hardware, pre-assembled parts, integrated bonding, lightweight components, and straightforward connections allow for one or two-person assembly, and no specialized labor or training is required. System flexibility enables you to mount 60 and 72 cell modules and select from multiple foundation options. Unirac systems come with a 25-year warranty.

— Solar Builder magazine

Ask a Distributor: We ask distributors for their purchasing advice, products to watch in 2018

solar distributors

Solar is now the No. 1 new source of capacity being added to the grid, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and solar installer is the fastest growing job in the country according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And what’s the reason for the rise of this new era? The impending doom of the ice caps melting? Hardly. The advancements in technology? Getting warmer.

Really, things just got cheaper.

This is to say that purchasing plays a large, perhaps outsized, role in the value proposition of the industry and your business. Given that reality, we wanted to kick off the year by polling a handful of solar distributors for their purchasing advice.

You’ll be hearing from:

purchasing

Here’s the No. 1 way to avoid purchasing problems

What are the common problems distributors see when it comes to purchasing systems to install? There are a few quick, solvable issues — stuff like reviewing the details of an order before signing off on it or avoiding last minute purchases.

“Plan ahead and inspect shipments to avoid/mitigate mix ups and ensure fast and timely solutions when needed,” McShea says. “Waiting three weeks until install to say something is missing and you need it now is not effective.”

But all of that feeds into the advice that resonated with us the most: Seeing the distributor relationship as a two-way street that adds value to your business. According to the distributors we talked to, the more often you communicate, the more the distributor knows about your business, the easier it is for them to help.

“Valuing price over loyalty and the quality of the relationship with a distributor, I think, is a mistake,” Schoder from Civic notes.

A simple step up in communication will not only solve a bunch of issues but could create additional value for your business.

“Good communication and transparency are always the best remedies for doing good business and mitigating potential errors,” Dufrenne says. “Everyone is busy and going to make mistakes, including distributors and shipping companies. When all parties pay attention to detail and plan accordingly, deliveries and installations seem to go more smoothly.”

And it’s not just an exercise in mistake avoidance. Keeping everyone on the same page, forecast-wise, can only make the ordering process smoother for everyone.

“At least one call a week to plan upcoming jobs would help avoid supply chain issues,” Kyler says. This ensures all orders and forecasting align with expectations.

There’s also the training aspect. “Manufacturers are constantly offering training, quite often through their distributors,” Bailey notes. “Yet we still see many installers deal with headaches for hours which they could have learned to avoid by going through some quick training on the product features and installation.”

Think about kits

Ordering from multiple suppliers for a given residential job can leave more room for error, such as damage during shipping, incorrect parts arriving or a delayed delivery, all of which lengthens install time and increases costs.

“The best solution I’ve seen yet for lowering soft costs is to have one to two standardized kits which the sales team and installation crew are both very familiar with,” says Leone with Civic. “This mitigates both sales and labor costs. We recommend having multiple kits to protect against upstream challenges such as availability.”

“Ordering from one supplier and having the experts kit the equipment per job before shipping to the jobsite or warehouse can reduce most mistakes that cause delays and additional labor/mobilization costs,” Dufrenne says.

Sticking with brands also avoids the hassle of resubmitting permits with different equipment types or brands.

4 soft cost reduction tips

Schoder: “Utilizing online software programs like Helioscope and Energy Toolbase to drastically reduce the amount of time and effort that goes into a respectable customer proposal.”

Bailey: “Smaller installers like to use microinverters for [lowering soft costs]. In many cases they don’t have the in-house expertise to properly design a string inverter system which can maximize production. Microinverters are flexible, and the installers can design in the field by adding modules as they see fit.”

Dufrenne: “Good operations management [from lead generation to final completion]. Use software, like ENACT.”

Kyler: “Installers should keep at least one administrator dedicated to handling all incoming and outgoing paperwork such as permits, SREC registrations and contracts. This would help reduce soft costs and avoid any confusion or dilemmas later on.”

Truck these rolls

For starters, it helps to have a mini-inventory of small accessories (L-feet, clamps, wire), but stocking extra parts for the rest of the system is always a good idea.

“A common purchasing mistake I see installers make is purchasing just enough for their project instead of calculating for inevitable adjustments when they get on the roof,” Kyler says. “Mostly when it comes to racking, I recommend keeping spare parts in each truck.”
Dufrenne laid it out like this: “Not ordering extra parts for racking and attachments ends up costing much more than you’d think, once you have to roll another truck and pay for overnight shipping charges for parts that are usually less than $10.”

When it comes to the inverter (and we will get into this more on page 28) MLPE or string inverters could each offer a route to reduced truck rolls, if handled correctly. But for now, we just note what Kyler recommends: “Select products that allow remote updates or choose manufacturers that provide service programs.”

“Carry spare parts and get your system up and communicating with your gateway and online account before leaving the site,” Bailey says. “Installers who use gateways can track performance as soon as the system lights up. They can coordinate with technical support and determine within a few minutes that all modules and inverters are performing to spec.”

Head to page 2 for advice on system purchasing

— Solar Builder magazine

On the scene: New solar installation products we saw at the California Solar Power Expo

We attended the California Solar Expo in San Diego last week. Here’s a rundown of some of the notable new solar products we spotted around the trade show floor.

S5 standing seam

S-5! is known for its rigorous testing and compliance standards for mounting solar on standing seam metal roofs. Its latest update on the module here (which you probably can’t see) is a better wire management solution than the disc they had been using, after customer feedback indicated it wasn’t wide enough for every application. The update here completely addresses that concern.

Coming soon, you can look out for a solar installation calculator on the S-5! site.

Pegasus

Pegasus Solar is introducing a new tile replacement solution that they say will remove the need for cutting tile while still fitting a wide variety of tile sizes. Key to the design is the attachment sitting on the ridge of the replacement instead of the valley, which keeps it clearer from water that would be funneling through the valley.

Solar connections

Solar Connections is promoting its Solar Connection Kit. Tested to UL 2703, the kit’s cable management disc allows for cables to be top loaded and sit securely. Push-Lock Technology secures the disc to the standing seam base clamp without extra nuts and bolts. Installation is made easy with Silver Bullet set screws that have a rounded bullet tip to maximize strength without digging in and damaging paint or piercing the seam.

CED Greentech

More to come on this, because it isn’t ready yet, but be on the lookout for a new website from CED Greentech.

Snapnrack mounting

SnapNrack is all about aesthetics. Well, they do more than that, but a lot of their latest products do give a sleeker look to a rooftop array while still being functional. The look, specifically is the black skirt with no end cap required.

solar roof hooks

Solarroofhook, known for its direct attach and tile hook solutions, has an updated flashing product. Unlike its previous solution that could bend, this one is stiff, which is something its customers were asking for.

APsystems

APSystems is coming out with a trunk cable version of its microinverters for those who couldn’t get into the daisy chain installation.

Energy toolbase

Energy Toolbase packed the demo stage with attendees who wanted to hear more about its new energy storage software. Energy Toolbase might be the most robust tool out there for behind the meter data and PV system modeling and proposal generation, and its new energy storage component is going to be just as robust. We will have more coverage on this posted soon.

Unirac

Unirac was promoting the shorter rows and greater energy density its rooftop mounting solution makes possible. Oh, and the company recently bumped up its warranty to 25 years.

If you are looking for more product info, check out our 2017 Inverters Buyer’s Guide.

— Solar Builder magazine