In Portland, Oregon, Imagine Energy, an energy consulting and contracting company focusing on alternative energy and energy efficiency, was faced with a unique residential solar energy installation. Unlike most residential installations, which are a few houses at a time or a single large building, this project involved installing a total of 750 kW of solar energy systems on the rooftops of nearly 400 homes in three separate phases.
This large-scale neighborhood solar energy project came to life in 2009 when Portland’s Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition, Solarize Portland and Energy Trust formed a partnership with the goal of rapidly increasing residential solar adoption in Southeast Portland.
The program created unique engineering and cost optimization challenges for the installers and contractors working on the installations. As one of the main installers, Imagine Energy had to overcome a few obstacles that were unique to a project of this type and size.
Challenge 1: Varied Roof Design
Most projects over 100 kW size are typically on one large roof or use ground-mounted systems that can be completely and uniformly designed and engineered prior to the entire installation. However, this project included multiple roofs of different profiles and materials requiring individual engineering and design layout for each roof.
Challenge 2: Time Efficiency
The large scale of the project meant that minimizing installation time was crucial to the profitability of the project for Imagine Energy, the installer. This meant Imagine Energy would have to find a solution that would take less time for multiple designs, preparation and installation.
Challenge 3: Cost Efficiency
Since the project required a large amount of product, Imagine Energy knew that they would be able to receive bulk pricing for all the equipment. However, it was crucial that they received the most cost effective and competitively priced product for such a large project. It was also important that Imagine Energy find a solution that would keep their inventory and shipping costs down during the deployment.
As a solar installation and consulting company that is anchored on the concepts of quality and innovation, Imagine Energy searched for solutions to the challenges it faced. Realizing that finding a suitable mounting system could solve the three main challenges, Pat Hickey, Project Manager at Imagine Energy, evaluated several different racking options. Mr. Hickey researched the benefits of different racking systems and identified Conergy’s SunTop mounting system as the best solution for all three challenges.
Solution 1: Flexible Design
Conergy’s SunTop mounting systems
are designed to be versatile enough to meet a variety of different design requirements. The telescoping end pieces eliminate the need to cut on the job site and eases planning because rail length does not need to be pre-determined. The innovative design of the SunTop splices maintains full structural integrity of the rail across the splice and do not require any drilling. The product innovations of Conergy’s SunTop mounting system reduced the time needed for pre-planning and allowed Imagine Energy to quickly and efficiently roll out a large number of unique solar energy systems while maintaining a high-level of quality and system integrity.
Solution 2: Pre-Assembled Parts
Most mounting systems have a large number of small parts that need to be assembled on the job site. The time installers spend assembling items or finding the correct washer for a specific connection greatly increases installation time, decreases crew efficiency and increases installation costs. Conergy’s patented Quickstone technology allows extensive pre-assembly of SunTop components at the factory which dramatically reduces the time normally spent assembling components in the field. This, coupled with the speed and ease of assembly, the Quickstone design allowed the installation crew to quickly and smoothly install all the systems. Decreasing the part count from the multitude of discrete parts required by competing systems down to four, pre-assembled Quickstone components also decreased installation time. Since Conergy’s SunTop system requires only a single tool to assemble the entire racking system, assembly complexity was dramatically reduced. This meant that Imagine Energy was able to shorten the installation time of the entire project, meet time efficiency objectives and profitability goals.
Solution 3: No Hidden Costs
Conergy’s SunTop is uniquely designed to have 50% fewer parts compared to comparable systems. This means that there is lower total inventory, reduced chance of inventory mismatch or orphaned inventory, reduced shipping costs and fulfillment time- the hidden costs in mounting systems that are not usually accounted for, but that impact the profitability of a project. In addition to it's elegant technical design, assembly ease and reducing inventory and shipping costs, Conergy’s SunTop is competitively priced . The SunTop’s cost reduction factors helped Imagine Energy keep their costs under control and reach their profitability goals.
Pat Hickey, Project Manager at Imagine Energy, stated, “We looked at several different racking systems and SunTop was user friendly, both for the roofers and the electricians. The components were solid. All of the connecting components were very easy to use and durable. The installation team was able to quickly standardize on the system and it is now their racking of choice. The innovations that Conergy designed into its mounting system provided us a real value add.” In addition to meeting the project challenges, SunTop is also domestically manufactured, which was a key element to the project.
Once Imagine Energy identified the hurdles to increasing their efficiency, they were able identify specific solutions. Imagine Energy has successfully finished the first two phases of the residential installations. The 3rd phase, which includes 75-100 households, is set to commence shortly. The entire project is estimated to be completed in a total of 18 months.