The Racking Factor


The February issue's cover story is our first residential-scale solar power market report – a comprehensive look at an important industry segment.

The article outlines five keys for growth in the residential solar market. Of course, the installers and other residential solar players who were interviewed had plenty more to say about what the industry needs to do in order to maintain momentum, especially once incentives fade.

Now that module prices have fallen so dramatically, lower balance-of-system (BOS) costs and more efficient installation techniques will be important.

‘Racking and inverter manufacturers will feel pressure to lower costs,’ says Scott Wiater, president of Standard Solar. ‘Those, combined with labor, are really all that's left to drive out costs, beyond modules and soft costs and permitting.’

Racking manufacturers, in particular, are also looking to distinguish themselves by claiming to help installers reduce their own costs with products that promise faster installation. Some installers, however, remain skeptical.

‘Most try to charge a premium and say [you can] make it up on the labor side, but we haven't really found that to be the case yet,’ Wiater reports.

‘We focus more on the quality aspect,’ he adds, noting that some installers have sought to save money on their racking by using low-cost products he describes as flimsy-looking.

‘We're at that fine line – where does quality start to suffer as we focus on cost reduction?’ Wiater asks.

Robert Vaughan, president and CEO of Earth Wind & Solar, has found that racking prices, overall, have come down in approximate proportion to module prices. The company is also working with research partners on an entirely new type of mounting technology that uses adhesives.

The product, which will be used with special lightweight monocrystalline PV modules, is currently designed for flat commercial rooftops, but Vaughan says residential applications will be the next step.

No matter how revolutionary, labor-saving or otherwise attractive a new mounting product may be, installers must also always consider the costs of implementation. For a company with a sizable labor force, newer isn't always better – or most economical.

‘The product lifecycles are so short that you train your field personnel to do it one way, and six months later, a new product comes out,’ says Bob Kingery, founder and CEO of Southern Energy Management. ‘You must continually retrain in the field.

‘It might save some time to move forward with a particular product, but you have to be careful,’ he adds. ‘You can't ignore quality control and the training dollars.’Â

This article was originally published in the February 2013 issue of
Solar Industry.

Editor's Note: To submit your own contribution to Viewpoints, email Jessica Lillian at

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