As solar is becoming more and more attractive it is the modules that are savoring the spotlight: discussions usually center around the various poly- and mono-crystalline module types, module efficiency and power output, warranties as well as testing results and so on.
While modules are rightfully assuming the role of “lead actor” of any PV system, an integral supporting role is often overlooked that has almost as much to do with the success of a module than the module itself: the racking or mounting system. True, by definition, mounting solutions are largely doing their work behind the scenes — their sole purpose being to support or affix the modules so they can be secured in an optimum angle for maximum yield. What many don’t realize though is the kind of all-round talent a mounting system has to be in the – let’s face it — very delicate, heavily regulated environment of a roof. Racking systems are the only point of contact the modules have with the roof or ground (in a ground mount application) and their role as an intermediary is not an easy one. In short, mounting systems need to be strong enough to withstand heavy winds and harsh climates but light enough to leave the roof structure intact.
Pitched roofs, flat roofs, and ground mounts all have vastly different requirements for mounting systems. Yet there is one mantra they all have in common: racking systems should be easy to install because saving on installation time will reduce overall system costs for the end user. Racking systems need to be extremely durable and strong. It’s kind of like asking an elephant to be a ballerina, but not only for an evening but for at least 30 or more years, as at least one leading manufacturer guarantees an 80% power output of its modules for that length of time.
The amount of sophisticated engineering and aerodynamic design that goes into the layout of a system is nothing less than mindboggling. Flat roofs have different wind zones and structural capabilities; avoiding leakage of course is always something that needs to be addressed. Pitched roofs may have asphalt shingles, roof tiles or may be made of metal and mounting solutions may vary with each one. Ground mounts come with their own challenges: a good integrator will take soil samples to determine appropriate mounting fixtures and ensure its longest possible life time. That’s why a good integrator is truly an ‘integrator’: all these factors need to be integrated into the best solution for the customer — the most perfect install on one roof might not yield much in another situation with different zoning codes, fire regulations, and wind or seismic conditions. Setting up the most optimal PV system is as much an art as a science and the part of the racking system is no exception: the mounting system needs to be tended to with the utmost care and attention so PV-modules can shine in their role as clean energy producers and maximize their power output as intended by its manufacturers.
As with all innovation becoming mainstream, PV-systems are constantly evolving, being improved, streamlined, and perfected. PV-module efficiency has increased continuously at a rate of 5% every year for the last couple of years while module prices have fallen as much as 40%. The end user is able to take advantage of premium grade modules that are currently on the market bringing energy independence to their homes, communities or businesses for many, many years to come. The trend for mounting systems is becoming equally exciting and can basically be reduced to four letters: EASE.
Manufacturers have picked up on the trend and are looking into developing simple, time saving “click and slide” systems that work with a minimal amount of tools. During Solar Power International in Texas this (past) week, it was apparent that integrators were on the lookout for new and innovative concepts for mounting systems. Representing a complete systems provider, who used the trade event to introduce its next generation intelligent mounting system I know just how important this component is for the PV installing business. Just like integrators, the importance of a reliable, sturdy mounting product that delivers the same quality as many of the traditional mounting solutions is very much understood by the leading manufacturers. If you are an installer and you are looking for the best the market has to offer, keep on the look-out for clamps and brackets that simply snap or slide on and cut the necessary components to a minimum. Time saved during installation directly translates into making PV not only a very clean renewable energy solution but also one of the most cost-competitive and versatile ones.
Written by Sylvia Minton, who heads the Public Affairs Chair of the Georgia Solar Energy Association. A long time journalist and communications specialist, the Sr. VP of Corporate Affairs for MAGE SOLAR, a complete solar PV systems & components provider, is a member of the board of directors of the MAGE SOLAR ACADEMY in Dublin, GA, USA. MAGE SOLAR ACADEMY, located at the corporate campus of MAGE SOLAR USA in Dublin, GA, is a premier educational arena for professionals of all levels and occupations in the expanding PV-market. A subsidiary of the international MAGE GROUP, the academy boasts over 10,000 sqf of state-of-the-art educational technology, indoor and outdoor training and simulation areas.