More Affordable PV Installation

a guest post by Ken Whiteside, Director of Business Development at ONTILITY, LLC.

More Affordable PV Installation

The long standing notion that has hindered adoption of solar in many markets is the up front cost. Even with various incentives, there remains a significant initial investment for most customers. And even with the 80% drop in the price of PV modules during the last few years, system prices remain a barrier for many. So solar industry experts continue looking for ways to reduce the cost of design and installation.

One such effort was conducted by SolarTech, under a Department of Energy SunShot grant. They held several workshops starting in Dec. 2012 to study how standardization could bring greater efficiency without sacrificing quality. The key to any successful industry standards collaboration is to identify an issue that has economic significance and doesn’t over-burden any single subset of the industry. During the workshops, one issue all participants supported, which will serve as an initial step toward other standardization possibilities, is module geometry.

Think about what it would be like if electrical equipment like conduit or junction boxes varied in dimension from one manufacturer to another, or if changing the brand of tires on a truck also required changing the rims and hubs. This is essentially the case with PV modules. Every manufacturer comes up with its own dimensions so a new set of calculations is required for each design. And if there’s a change of module manufacturer in the middle of project, fresh design calculations are required costing additional design time. And because key dimensions vary from brand to brand, mounting hardware must be properly matched to each one.

SunTech and its working group consulted with multiple module manufacturers to arrive at the following proposal for a standard geometry for a 60-cell and a 72-cell module:

  • For a 60-cell module, the size is 40 mm by 1000 mm by 1664 mm
  • For a 72-cell module it is 40 mm by 1000 mm by 1980 mm.

Having a standard thickness will greatly simplify the clamping and mounting of panel, and a simple, consistent width (one meter) will greatly simplify project estimation and design.

The standards team participants estimated that adopting this one standard will reduce the installed cost of solar by as much as 10 cents per watt without compromising quality and without adversely affecting manufacturer profits.

For now, this story ends with a couple of calls for action for the industry:

  1. Final ratification of standard dimensions by PV module manufacturers and a commitment to incorporate the standard dimensions into their new product plans. A standard is only as good as its adoption penetration.
  2. A commitment to continue the standards conversation. Standards have played an integral part in the scaling-up of every industry and there are plenty of opportunities for standardization in solar that would have a positive impact on efficiency without sacrificing an individual company’s competitive differentiation.

It is incumbent on all stakeholders in the industry to promote appropriate and sensible standardization.

Ken Whiteside photo Ken Whiteside has been a fan of solar energy for decades. His first hands-on experience was installing solar on off-grid houses around Telluride, Colorado in the 1990’s (summer in the San Juan Mtns. - somebody had to do it). From his home in Austin, Ken writes and works for widespread adoption of solar electricity, smart energy production and use, and sustainability.
 

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