Spice Solar Says New Built-In Racking System Cuts Solar Labor Installation Costs by 6-12%

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Spice Solar introduces its new Built-In Racking solar modules and mounting components, which let installers directly attach modules to the roof. The company says the solution uses half the parts and takes half as much time to install, making a good dent in soft costs.

Not a day goes by that you don’t hear about solar soft costs. They’re being tackled from all angles in an attempt to further reduce the overall cost of solar.

One of the angles is installation labor. And one of the ways to tackle that is with integrated racking.

At Intersolar North America this week, Spice Solar is introducing their new rackless solar modules and mounting components, which let installers directly attach modules to the roof. You can see them at Booth 7610.

Naturally, integrating the racking into the frames of the modules makes installation faster and cheaper. So why isn’t this a more widespread practice?

It’s not for lack of trying. In fact, the same Spice Solar team that came up with the new product also introduced the industry’s first module with integrated racking. The difference is that the new Built-In Racking™ is cheaper.

 

In contrast, previous generations of rackless modules were a bit more expensive than their standard counterparts. Although the greater expense could be more than offset by labor reductions, that was hard to show, says Barry Cinnamon, CEO and co-founder of Spice Solar: “When went through the financial data, it was difficult to come up with specific soft cost numbers, though the design work was faster. We definitely saw savings, but it was hard to prove to small installers.”

 

While the smaller companies didn’t want to pay the premium, some larger installers actually standardized on the Zep and Andalay solutions because they could see they’d save on labor.

 

How to change that for smaller installers? Show them that they’d save on parts, which was easier to quantify than labor savings. “The design goal for Spice Solar,” says Cinnamon, “was to make the pile of parts cheaper, so it would be clear to installers that they would save money on parts. They also knew they would probably save on labor. So it’s a win-win.”

 

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Spice Solar improved on previous generations with a unique snap-together design that reduces parts costs, allows easy portrait and landscape installation, and also allows the removal of a module from the middle of an array for simpler operations and maintenance.

Even though the new solution is cheaper, Spice Solar hasn’t given up on quantifying labor savings.

“With Spice Solar Certified modules and components, installers need half the number of parts, save on warehouse space, and can carry the racking up to the roof in a bucket – not a 20’ long bundle of rails,” says Jeff Wolfe, Senior Advisor to Spice Solar. “Time trials show that modules with built-in racking are installed twice as fast as ordinary rack-mounted modules.”

Cinnamon is even more specific: “For a typical 20 module residential system, Spice Solar can save over $350 in parts and $1,150 in labor compared to an ordinary rack-mounted system. That’s a huge savings for small residential installers who typically purchase their equipment from distributors. Soft costs, including labor, logistics, permitting, and overhead add up to 64% of total install costs – so saving money on parts and labor has a big impact on an installer’s bottom line and competitiveness.”

2014-07-08 17.13.21Spice Solar has achieved this cost and parts reduction by focusing on just mounting components. The modules are not sold under the Spice name but are licensed. The Spice Solar frame with Built-In-Racking is integrated directly into the modules at the factory, and is compatible with a wide range of industry standard mounting components and flashings.

Spice Solar Certified Modules are available from select manufacturers — the first being  Auxin Solar, which will sell the modules under their own name. “We’re hoping this will become the standard,” says Cinnamon.

Sherry Tai, CEO and Co-founder of Auxin Solar, points out the many benefits to their partnership: “Auxin is delighted to offer a Spice Certified version of our U.S.A. made solar modules. When we look at the pressure in the industry to reduce soft costs, eliminating all the parts related to racking and grounding is the most important first step. We are very happy to supply our U.S. customers from our nearby manufacturing facility in San Jose, which gives rise to a plethora of local jobs.”

Cinnamon’s excitement about the new solution is not just from his perspective as a product developer. After all, he’s been installing solar systems for years. So he knows what’s needed — and what works. He’s looking forward to his own company using the new modules. “As an installer,” he says, “I can’t wait.”