Marcelo Gomez, director of marketing for Unirac, a solar racking manufacturer, dropped me an email yesterday with his predictions for for 2012. They are interesting enough that I wanted to share them with you:
1. The first solar infrastructure products meeting industrywide performance standards will come to market.
In 2011, the International Code Council’s Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) reviewed and adopted the first criteria for modular framing systems used to support photovoltaic modules in the U.S. While thorough standards exist in module manufacturing — there are many codes in place for electrical components – there is no unilateral standard for solar infrastructure, until now. This has allowed individual project contractors to interpret information differently, leaving room for dramatic miscalculations. However, in 2012, we’ll also see mounting systems available that comply with the ICC-ES Acceptance Criteria (AC428), which contains solid guidance for the structural evaluation of racking components.
2. Prefabricated, preassembled arrays will become prevalent.
Processes such as parallel efforts and preassembly increase installation speed. Currently, most building is done in the field by hand, but prefabricated, preassembled arrays will become prevalent, minimizing building time in the field and maximizing efficiency in project completion after the permitting process. By reducing the expense of field labor and increasing factory production, overall project cost will drop while installation time becomes shorter.
3. TCO will replace cost per watt as a measuring stick.
Cost per watt is a false measurement. In 2012, expect to see more focus on total cost of ownership (TCO) to paint a more accurate pricing picture. The best way to lower TCO is to standardize on solar infrastructure engineered to be easy to install and maintain. High-value products should be built to last for decades under extreme weather conditions. Companies should offer long-lasting warranties that cover performance, rather than defects, thereby lowering the cost of replacing parts or system failure. Lowering TCO over the lifetime of an array and expediting ROI will spur the expansion of the solar market.
I think the third point is the most interesting of the bunch. I’ve heard this from several different companies in the industry — i.e., that the cost per watt model doesn’t make any sense. I’ll be talking about this further — it’s a fascinating idea whose time may be coming. Stay tuned.