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Solar soft costs are the largest slice of system installations - can these industry installation innovations keep driving down the cost of new projects?

Rooftop Solar

Can Installation Innovations Keep Cutting Solar Soft Costs?

Solar soft costs are the largest slice of system installations – can these industry installation innovations keep driving down the cost of new projects?

As the expected federal solar investment tax credit expiration approaches at the end of 2016, America’s solar industry is actively seeking to wring every possible efficiency out of the project development process — especially when it comes to solar soft costs, the non-hardware costs of solar installations.

Solar soft costs may not seem like a big deal, but as panel prices have fallen, they’ve become the largest piece of solar installation costs. The Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative is, accordingly, working to drive industry innovations in all aspects of soft costs, but two particular aspects — racking and installation time — stand out in displays at the Intersolar North America 2015 expo hall. Here are just a few of the interesting products I saw this week:

IRFTS Solar Solutions Easy Roof Evolution

The Easy Roof Evolution is a building-integrated mounting system for rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The overlapping mounting systems fit together like tiles without any sealing or cutting and can fit residential, commercial, agricultural, or industrial roofs. The modular assembly can range from several kilowatts (kW) to several megawatts (MW) in size, will work on various types of roofing components (i.e. shingle, tile, or slate), and are 100% recyclable.

IRFTS Solar Solutions Easy Roof Evolution

QuickMount PV rail-free mounting system

This simple solar PV mounting system “respects the roof,” as QuickMount’s slogan goes by eliminating long rails, cutting the number of bolts drilled into roofs, and reducing overall installation time and labor costs. The system works with standard PV modules, ships in small boxes, and includes integrated grounding to require less wiring hardware. Installation only requires mounts-to-modules instead of mounts-to-rails-to-modules, saving time and money.

Quick Mount Quick Rack solar mounting system

The system seems to work as advertised — I watched two workers install nine panels in under three minutes!

Gamechange Racking Pour-in-Place ballasted ground system

Here’s a completely different take on cutting installation costs — using poured concrete ballast systems to secure ground-mounted solar racks at $0.19 per watt. Gamechange claims its system cuts costs with a 68% faster installation time than precast mounts and enables 15 workers to install 1.31 MW per week, while removing gravel beds or ground preparation saves up to $0.05/W. Another bonus: the above-ground ballast systems are ideal for solar landfill projects where drilling posts can complicate the installation process.

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SnapNrack Invislight railless residential roof mount system

The Invislight system won’t officially be released until this fall, but it debuted this week at Intersolar, promising solar panel installation using just one tool and significant cost reductions. Only three components go into the system: A mount, a link, and a grip, and they ship pre-assembled in one small box almost like an IKEA table. The biggest difference between this system and the QuickMount system seems to be integrated wiring on Invislight, but they both promise faster installations and lower labor costs.

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Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.


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