Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” With a reputation as a leading provider of solar mounting solutions and more than 30 years product development and engineering experience, it is no surprise that Detroit-based Applied Energy Technologies (AET) dug deep into its engineering know-how to create an inverter mounting kit custom-made specifically for its valued customer, Chint Group.
What AET leaders did not know at the time was that the design would be the model for the Rayport-I inverter mounting kit created for most string inverters. It also addresses the need to comply with a new National Electric Code that requires rapid shutdown of solar systems on rooftops to protect firefighters and others if a solar system catches fire.
Using the Rayport-I, allows installers to mount the inverter horizontally on a rooftop rather than hanging it on a wall, eliminating the need to design a system on the fly, in the field. By situating the inverter in a location other than the wall, if something happens to the system, it is now easier and quicker to shut down.
We contacted Aaron Faust, vice president of business development for AET, to find out more about the Rayport-I mounting kit, which made its debut in June 2014.
Solar Builder: The idea for the Rayport-I inverter mounting kit came from your customers. What were they specifically asking for?
Faust: Because of the relationship we have with Chint Group, they came to us and asked, “What can you do for us? We have a lot of customers that really need a solution for this.” This request was motivated by the new codes requiring disconnects closer to the array. We listened to Chint Group when they told us that it was something their customers could use.
We developed the product specifically for the Chint inverter, but quickly found that several other companies that make string inverters had the same issue. We made changes to make it more universal so it could fit most of the string inverters available. It evolved from a product helping one customer to something that can be universally-used, and now we’re getting some pretty good traction with a lot of companies.
SB: Why have a stand-alone inverter mount?
Faust: With string inverters, they’re smaller and there are more of them per system, but they need to be mounted closer to the actual system. Many times, wall space is not available and you’re running lines or hiding them. New codes require the inverter to be within 10 feet of the array. If you have this nice flat roof and nowhere to mount these inverters, you’re out of options.
You really need this stand-alone option to meet codes. We also found out that some of the inverters have an AC-disconnect, so we put provisions in our system to be able to mount that too. In addition, some inverters need shade to work efficiently, so we added an optional shade kit, a canopy to protect the inverter. Finally, we’ve developed another option that we call the “load-center accessory” so that customers can mount their load cell to the back of our unit. This saves money by eliminating the need to purchase extra provisions to mount these other disconnects.
The product has evolved and is still evolving. We’ve gone from a unit that was made for one type of inverter to something that is more universal. We are constantly innovating and this is another example of a product that not only saves our customers time, but also money.
SB: Is it made of the same materials as your panel mounting systems? Are they ballasted?
Faust: Yes, is made to the high quality standards of our other products. It is made of stainless steel and it is also light weight. The Rayport-I is only 13 lbs, compact, lightweight and easy to handle on the job site.
SB: Do you see other panel mounting companies getting involved with inverter mounts?
Faust: We’ve seen a couple of others follow our lead, but there is nothing significant yet. I still think it remains to be seen what our competitors do. We are happy to be first, and pleased that we were able to help our customers solve a problem with new technology. I can only speak for ourselves in that our customers really helped guide our innovation with the Rayport-I.
SB: Will the new NEC rules affect you as a panel-mounting company? Are they changing rooftop layouts?
Faust: What we might see are new fire codes that make companies like us think even more about fire management as well as wind and air management, especially as it relates to rooftop fires. There are more requests and requirements coming out, like with UL 2703 where the fire code is a major component. Trying to figure out the height of your modules and if you’re going to use a wind deflector all comes into play now. Indirectly, it’s affecting us, but not for the same reason that this (inverter mount) requires. Our goal is to anticipate the rules and guidelines before they are implemented. Of course, safety is the highest priority for us.
SB: What does AET as a whole expect for 2015?
Faust: 2015 will be a transitional year for us, especially on the ground side. We are gaining good traction on the ground, similar to what we’ve already had on the roof. We’ve recently landed some large multi-MW sized projects demonstrating our bankability for utility-scale systems. We are starting to be recognized as one of the top leaders in the ground-mount market. That said, we are also excited about how our new Rayport-B ECO roof system will affect the market. We introduced a highly competitive product and our customers are excited about it. We’re also proud of our 100 percent on time, 100 percent on budget, and zero warranty claim record and will strive to maintain that standard as we continue to evolve our product offerings.
This story was compiled by Mike Kezdi, contributing editor for Solar Builder.