Photovoltaic mounting and tracking system manufacturers are seeing the industry grow in a number of areas, which has led these companies to pursue different avenues for getting their products on the market and rounding out supply chains.
‘Commercial rooftops have massive untapped potential,’ says Ryan Bruce, president of RoofScreen Mfg./Silverback Solar. ‘There are billions of square feet of flat commercial rooftops, free of shade and suitable for photovoltaic installations.’
Other manufacturers, such as Eco-Fasten's Brian C. Stearns, Panel Claw's Constantino Nicolaou and SolarFrameWorks' Patrina Eiffert, have witnessed similar attention paid to commercial rooftops. Moreover, diverse customer segments are being increasingly served.
‘The most growth [is occurring] in the small- and medium-size commercial projects that are not funded by power purchase agreements,’ Eiffert says. ‘This reflects the successful marketing being done by roofing contractors and solar integrators across the country.’
Daniel E. O'Brien, vice president with SolarDock, says he has seen a ‘spike in installations on educational and public facilities.’
‘We foresee steady growth in both the residential and commercial markets,’ adds Martin Hausner, CEO of Schletter Inc., who notes that one sector in particular – municipal utilities – is growing quickly.
JP Labrosse, vice president with RayTracker Inc., says his company is experiencing ‘tremendous growth in the utility sector.’
‘We believe the ability to serve the needs of this sector in the years ahead will be a critical asset for mounting system providers,’ he remarks.
‘The greatest potential rests in the utility-scale, commercial and institutional sectors,’ comments Dan Kuzniewski of Tyco Electrical & Metal Products' mechanical division. ‘These sectors face many obstacles, such as permitting and financing, but we are hoping that recent actions taken by our government will help move these projects along to fruition.’
Overall industry growth, however, must be met with similar advancements in how mounting and tracking system manufacturers drive innovation into the hands of distributors, dealers and installers. Product manufacturers seem to be handling such needs in a variety of ways.
When asked whether his company has embarked on any co-development arrangements or otherwise partnered with other companies on the solar supply chain, Ironridge's Francesco Paola remarks that ‘innovation comes from asking the right questions and searching beyond your boundaries.’
‘We have partnered with design-engineering firms that may not necessarily have done work in the solar space, but can apply functional concepts from their world, including automotive and satellite/antenna tracking industries,’ he continues. ‘This has allowed us to accelerate the design and development of both our fixed and tracking systems.’
Also important, Paola says, is for mounting and tracking system manufacturers to make inquiries with established and novice solar installers to get their advice about what works in the field.
‘They are the ones that can provide the most direct, applicable feedback to how mounting systems can be optimized to achieve the objectives of lowering the total cost of installation, easing installation and improving reliability,’ he comments.
Some mounting and tracking specialists work directly with other solar original equipment manufacturers to create their portfolios.
‘We are currently working closely with panel manufacturers to optimize our future products to best match with the panel architectures of tomorrow,’ says Labrosse.
‘The goal is to minimize any duplication of structure between the panel and the tracker and improve how quickly the panels can be attached to the tracker,’ he notes. ‘Joint development work with key suppliers is also a strong focus, particularly in the area of product reliability.’
Other firms, such as SolarFrameWorks, are working with PV module and laminate manufacturers to make building-integrated mounting solutions, while others – like Eco-Fasten – work with several manufacturers and distributors to develop products exclusively for those companies.
Of course, actual product development represents only one piece of the puzzle. Manufacturers must also conceive methods for deepening their products' market penetration.
For instance, Nicolaou remarks that Panel Claw's Polar Bear technology is distributed in the U.S. exclusively through groSolar, a provider of solar components in North America.
Schletter, Hausner says, currently sells products directly to large-scale retailers, but the company is also ‘actively seeking distributorships.’
And Next Generation Energy's Dave Kreutzman says many dealers are currently building accounts for the company's ZILLA mounting technology. Moreover, ‘We are in the process of setting up national distribution accounts to ease procurement,’ he adds.