How Fast Can You Rack?

Solar racking companies battled it out on the floor of Solar Power International (SPI) in late October, demonstrating new system improvements to shave critical minutes off installation time and pennies off the per-watt cost. While many basic ground, flat roof and sloped roof mounting systems feature dramatically reduced costs, the competition is still on: exhibitor display signs touting cost per watt were prevalent, and several portended to be easily breaking the single-digit cents range with their offerings.

Using a Third Party Stopwatch

Since virtually every racking manufacturer says that its product is faster to install than the old standard nuts-and-bolts assemblies of a decade ago, some companies are distinguishing themselves from the competition with third-party time studies. Solar FlexRack, based in Youngstown, OH, for example, commissioned a study by the Industrial Timestudy Institute, of Akron, to determine exactly how fast its G3L series racking, released during first quarter of this year, really is.

Spice Solar shows the advantage of avoiding a work belt full of odd parts. Credit: Charles W. Thurston

The study found that FlexRack’s posts could be installed in four minutes each, tilt brackets in 3.7 minutes each, racks and bracing at 5.5 minutes each, and mobilization between racks at 3.2 minutes. The overall summation of the study is that the FlexRack G3 can be installed for a cost of less than one cent per Watt, the results state. “The benefit from our system for labor in the field is about 30 percent,” suggests Ryan Petruska, the marketing manager for FlexRack. The company will have sold close to 1 GW of racking by the year’s end.

Similarly, Unirac, based in Albuquerque, employed DNV GL to verify that its Roof Mount system can install at a rate of 12 modules per man/hour. Such benchmarking of actual install times, either in the lab or in the field on actual projects, will become more of a standard as competition increases in the sector.

Flat Roof Designs Streamline Connections

A host of racking companies offered flat roof systems at the show; the official show guide listed 85 companies in the racking arena, including fixed and tracker manufacturers.

Quick Mount PV installers demonstrate the speed of their system. Credit: Charles W. Thurston.

Unirac, for example, focused attention on its SolarMount system, including a bonding L-foot with attaching T-bolts, an integrating bonding splice bar for connecting two panels, a bonding mid-clamp and a microinverter mount location, which cumulative save install time, said Marcelo Gomez, the director of marketing for the company.

Mounting Systems, of West Sacramento, unveiled its ballasted Lambda Light S+ and EW+ products, which are south-facing, and alternating east-and-west facing designs. Emphasizing a reduction in parts and install time, the Light line permits a tilt of either 10 degrees or 15 degrees using the same adjustable framework, noted Hannah Mirza, an associate product manager for the company. The line continues use of the Clickstone clamping system, and costs between 10 and 12 cents per watt minus ballast.

SPI Posters Touted Costs Below 10 cents per watt. Credit: Charles W. Thurston

Mounting Systems ground mounting Sigma I XS was also featured, which permits installation on an east-west slope of up to 20 degrees, Mirza noted. The U.S. subsidiary and its German parent, were purchased in February by Nordwest Industrie Group, based in Frankfurt.

Renusol Solar launched its GS ballast system, which is being tailored for landfill or other brownfield locations where soil penetration is undesirable. “Over 24 of the GS units can be installed per man hour, depending on how you lay out the components,” said Bart Leusink, the Atlanta-based CEO of the U.S. subsidiary. 

Renusol also introduced its east-west orientation flat roof design at the show, which has been popular in Europe. “We have seen more interest in west-facing installations here in the United States,” Leusink says. “We also have a frameless racking system in the works,” he said. Renusol was acquired in June by RBI Solar, based in Cincinnati, OH from the German-based Centrosolar, providing Renusol new access to RBI’s two U.S. manufacturing facilities, as well as one in China.

Among other flat roof racking systems, DPW, of Albuquerque, launched its Power Xpress flat-roof system with two main components, a chassis and a clamp. The clamp attaches to a lip on the module frame and is tightened from the side, saving install time, suggested Daniel Duffield, an engineer with the company. “The pans are shipped pre-assembled and are panel agnostic,” he said. DPW also launched a universal fixed-tilt ground mount system.

Rack 10 Solar, based in Round Hill, VA, featured its new metal-pan based flat roof system that has been reduced to three parts for installation speed: the ballast pan, a spacer bar, and grounding top clamp. “The design is patent pending,” noted Richard Pantel, president of the company. Available in angles of 5, 7.5 and 10 degrees, the system requires only 3.5 pounds of ballast per square foot. The system is available for as little as 10.5 cents per Watt, he notes.

Solar Speedrack also showed its SpeedMount 200 series, a shared rail system, which can be installed 25 to 30 percent faster than standard configurations, reckoned Shane Shamloo, the president of the Costa Mesa, CA, company. Among new features of the system is a roof penetration rate of only once per 10-foot rail, thanks to a splice, as well as the use of a new floating weight non-penetrating support foot.

Sloped Roof Innovations

Quick Mount PV featured its QRack rail-free design at SPI, including its Elevated Water Seal foot, a panel clamp for mid and end panel linkage, and a first row skirt for aesthetics. One testimonial on the Walnut Creek, CA.-based company website claims a 50 percent reduction in installation time through use of the system. It is also UL 2703 listed and has a UL 1703 System Class A Fire Rating for Type 1 modules.


Installers snap a Quick Mount Quick Rack into place. Credit: Quick Mount PV

SnapNrack unveiled two new tile roof hooks at the show, a flat hook and an S-tile hook, which help to speed installations, noted Jill Strange, a marketing associate for the San Luis Obispo, CA.-based company. The flat hook has been available since its launch in August, and the S-hook will be available in Q1 2015, she said. Company representatives also demonstrated residential roof mount system components including integrated wire management, snap-in channel nuts, and integrated bonding pins that preclude the need for drilling.

The company also recently gained UL approval of its residential roof mount system, Series 100 UL, that is UL Code 2703 compliant for bonding and fire rating. “SnapNrack is one of the very first racking manufacturers to achieve Class A Fire Rating with Type 1 Modules,” the company said. SnapNrack, owned by Sunrun since February, has over 300 MW of racking installed in the United States.

Polar Racking, of Toronto, also showed off its new PF One 2.0 version low-slope product, which sports three components plus a fastener, and can be installed on slopes of up to 30 degrees. The company claims that this product line can install up to 30 percent faster than a standard configuration.

Solar Carport Installation Speed Increases

Among solar carport builders that have streamlined design to enhance installation speed is Park ‘N Shade, based in Marana, Az. “With our new solar purlin, installers can do 500 to 700 panels per crew per day, compared with 150 to 200 panels in a standard carport design,” said Travis Bailey, the solar carport representative for the company.

The faster speed is based on a special roof purlin that is designed with a C-shaped notch on top, into which panels can be slid one after another along the length of the purlin. The panel attachment is performed from below with special L-clips, also saving time over systems requiring rooftop connections. “Our patent-pending design is panel agnostic; if it is a new dimension, they send their panel and we design the purlin,” said Bailey.


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