One of the problems with traditional commercial rooftop solar is that it’s mighty heavy. Since commercial roofs tend to be very flat and commercial systems very large, the roofs often cannot withstand the weight of traditional ballasted systems that use heavy concrete blocks to help hold down the panels. The only other option for commercial roofs are solar systems that are mechanically attached to the roof, meaning that installers need to drill holes into the roof, potentially compromising its integrity.
Beamreach, formerly Solexel, thinks it has a better mousetrap. The company is unveiling its new name and “Sprint” rooftop system this week at Intersolar Europe. Sprint integrates racking into the panel. To install panels on a roof, installers need only flip down an already-integrated adhesive-covered “foot” and step on it to adhere the system to the roof.
According to Mark Kerstens, CEO, rows of panels can also be spaced about 30 percent closer together because “if you have early morning or late afternoon shading from the top of one row to the bottom of the next, that shading is not impacting the panel as much as it would be with a conventional layout.”
The tool-less installation process, closer spacing and 60-percent lighter system all together add up to an installation time that is about 5 times faster than a conventional roof system, according to the company.
The Cells, Models and Racking System
Beamreach’s Kerstens said that the company has developed its own back-contact monocrystalline silicon cell design in its facility in Milpitas, Calif. He said the fabrication facility uses large production tools and “we expect to have the first output from that fab for these back-contact cells in the first part of 2017.” The cells will be used in a 320-watt panel in a typical 6 x 10 row configuration. The output of that fab is relatively small, said Kerstens, and is mainly for proof-of manufacturing.
In order to enter the market now and because there was “a lot of customer interest in this product — the overall integrated frame rack solution,” said Kerstens, the company is offering its product today with cells that are procured from other vendors, whom he declined to name.
“They are high-efficiency front-contact PERC cells and they will generate in the high 290- to 300-watt range,” he said.
Eventually Beamreach plans to build a facility in a low-cost manufacturing region, he explained, adding that the company has received an incentive package from the government of Malaysia. But that is “further down the road than 2017,” he said, adding that “the sourcing from this year’s front-contact cells will typically also be out of Asia.”
The racking is made of plastic. It is an injection-molded composite material said Kerstens who declined to disclose the raw material manufacturer but said that the product “has been used extensively in extreme outdoor environments [with] high temperature, extensive sunlight for multiple decades.” It has never been used in a solar system, he added.
“We and the vendor of the product have a high degree of confidence around its longevity and its ability to withstand UV light and whatever else happens to it,” said Kerstens.
The adhesive material was also tested extensively, according to Kerstens. Many in the industry may remember one company’s attempt at “peel and stick solar” but the Beamreach product is not like that, said Kerstens.
“The bond between those [feet] and the roofing membrane is a permanent bond that will never come loose again,” he said.
The material has been used by roofers for non-solar extensively, according to Kerstens. Beamreach has also performed its own testing: “We have taken the products through all sorts of testing; sheer testing as well with various roofing membranes as the support material and that all came out extremely positively,” he said.
The module uses 2mm glass, as opposed to the standard 3.2mm that is commonly used in solar panels. The 2mm glass is only used on the front side of the panel. This thinner glass coating also helps to reduce the weight of the panel.
“The biggest weight reduction comes from not needing to use pavers, patio blocks, but glass is a heavy material so cutting the glass from 3.2 to 2.0 is not insignificant,” said Kerstens.
How on Earth Can a New Module Maker Survive?
Kerstens believes that the Beamreach product is differentiated enough to give it a fighting chance at survival in a market that is already flooded with solar manufacturers. “Being able to serve roofs that have been unserved or underserved up to now,” is the company’s sweet spot he said, adding that it also works “perfectly fine” on a roof that doesn’t have weight restrictions.
Kersten declined to offer pricing information but said that Beamreach is well aware that electricity is a commodity and the Sprint system needs to be competitive. He said overall the system will offer a lower “cents per kilowatt-hour” price point.
“That is all that really matters,” he said.
Because the Sprint system opens up roofs previously unable to have a solar system, Kersten said that his competitors are simply the local utility price.
“So the LCOE [levelized cost of energy] is against what they are currently paying from their utility and all they know about that is it is going to go up every year because it has pretty much for the last 25 years,” he said.
The new product will be on display at Intersolar Europe, Intersolar North America and Solar Power International.