As the solar market grows, more non-solar-specific companies are seeing opportunity to expand along with it. But doing so often involves making changes to a product to meet the specific needs of the solar industry.
For example, Joe Brown of Marathon Special Products says the products his company offers for solar must have different ratings than those of its primary market in industrial controls.
“Solar products require higher power ratings and more wire termination options than our standard products,” he says.
Dee Chatterjee of Dunkermotor USA said his company also saw opportunity to move into solar with its experience in the high-volume transport and automated door industries.
“Our experience in motion-control applications helped us in designing a long-life solar tracker motor,” he says. Chatterjee also says that designing for a solar application required certain features not included in other industries.
Paul Mudge of Mudge Fasteners says that his company has also had to make adjustments to products to make them solar specific.
“Old fastener designs like the hanger bolt have found a new use in solar when made of stainless steel,” Mudge says. His company has also developed newer designs of fasteners for leak-free installations on metal roofs.
Manufacturers must make these changes while also keeping costs low and competitive.
“We constantly work to reduce costs due to increasing competition from cheap overseas products and continuously increasing commodity costs,” Brown says. “We primarily rely on developing automated assembly equipment, which keeps our labor costs down and helps assure we can still make the majority of our product in America. We also implement lean principles in our overall organization to prevent and eliminate waste of any type.”
Coming from the German solar market (which has a longer track record, more capacity and more standardization), Leigh Zanone of meteocontrol sees many of the issues his company experienced in 2009 coming to the U.S. market now.
“Government regulators, R&D labs, utilities and developers have demanded standardized requirements for quality assurance at all phases, forecasting for increased grid penetrations and simplified securitized ratings of PV assets,” Zanone says. “We have products that support all of these initiatives, and have been supplying them for several years. In the past, these services were ahead of the market, but now there is much more demand from the industry as a whole.”
“The solar power industry is a dynamic place where the only thing for certain is that the way things are today is not necessarily the way things will be tomorrow,” says Mudge. “Changes in costs, incentives, local regulations and the greater economy all have an effect on how solar developers, installers and manufacturers must do business.”