Simplification is one of the key objectives of the solar industry, but the path to get there, ironically, is super detailed. Removing components to simplify a racking system, being compatible (and compliant) with a broad range of suppliers and just generally re-thinking what’s already been established is a deliberate and labor-intensive trial-and-error process.
The Ecolibrium Solar office in Boulder, Colo., is a monument to the relentless process of simplification, and maybe it’s just the immediate proximity of craft breweries and, um, agricultural entrepreneurs, but the Ecolibrium team seems cool with it. On its face, there is nothing remarkable to see here, just a standard office tucked in the back of an office park, (save all of the tables and cornhole boards made of PV), but located in the warehouse is its product development and testing facility that is a certified partner lab of TÜV Rheinland Group. This partnership is a boon for simplification. Ecolibrium is able to test and certify modules for UL 2703 compliance in seven days and make a priority of the modules that need immediate certification. Without in-house testing, a company must wait until a lab can test the module, which can take up to several weeks or more.
“It’s a big deal and enables us to be very responsive to our customers’ needs,” says Chris Berg, engineering manager. “Installers often change modules based on availability. Being able to test quickly means we can certify modules as needed. Our UL 2703 listings enable customers and plan reviewers to see if the module specified is approved with our products.” In just the last six or seven months alone, Ecolibrium added around 109 modules to its UL 2703 certification listings.
This is what I’m talking about: Being a certified lab for TÜV Rheinland and testing UL compliance is so much work. To maintain the partnership, Ecolibrium must submit reports that prove its testing tools are calibrated properly. These calibration certificates require cross checking and validation of every tool used — covering everything from torque wrenches to tape measures. Yes, even the tape measures must be independently measured to assure validity of results. I’m exhausted just writing about it. Let’s turn this into a series of pictures to make it simpler for an editor like me.
Got all that? In addition to UL testing, Ecolibrium employs an in-house machinist to streamline the development of new prototypes for its racking product portfolio. Once a prototype is ready, it is handed to Jonah Coles, product solutions manager, who was an installer for seven years before joining Ecolibrium, to test from the installer point of view. Again, the trial and error R&D process is labor intensive, but keeping it all in house truncates the timeline from idea to implementation.
“From a prototyping standpoint, we can move from idea generation, to prototype, to optimizing the design, to a finished product much faster,” Coles explains. “Since we’re focused on continual innovations that simplify and improve racking, the ability to machine and test in house makes a huge difference.”
The latest creation to emerge from this laboratory is the EcoFoot5D High Density Ballasted solution that decreases tilt from 10 degrees to 5 degrees and cuts inner row spacing in half, boosting power density on a roof by 18.4 percent, which is a big industry trend these days. Other simplifications nearing completion are reducing the skirt SKUs for EcoX Rail-less from four to two, while increasing the number of module frame thicknesses that are compatible.
Solar Builder Buzz: Rail-less installation
For a solar installer, a new system, however simple, is just another thing to learn. The old “don’t fix what ain’t broke” principle. But Jonah Coles, product solutions manager for Ecolibrium, believes once installers overcome the learning curve for rail-less installation, they won’t go back to using railed systems. That was just one point of discussion with Coles and Chris Berg, engineering manager at Ecolibrium, during episode three of our Solar Builder Buzz podcast. Head to www.blubrry.com/solar_builder_buzz to listen and subscribe.