Beamreach Solar seemed to appear out of thin air this summer. At both Intersolar North America and Solar Power International, a brand new company suddenly was hosting large crowds interested in an innovative, easy-to-install system. Beamreach Solar’s Sprint product is a lightweight solar panel with integrated framing and racking that “unfolds” and quickly adheres to commercial rooftops. It eliminates the need for tools, ballast blocks and roof penetrations. Conference attendees were entranced.
Previously known as Solexel, the startup that would become Beamreach Solar manufactured thin silicon solar cells sandwiched between non-glass materials, making a lightweight solar module. With more than $240 million in funding, Solexel hit 21.2% cell efficiency in 2014 but decided to switch gears in June 2016 with a new product pathway and a name change.
Beamreach Solar entered the market just in time for the summer swing of conferences and product demos. CEO Mark Kerstens said the company is focused on producing a full system ideal for the commercial and industrial rooftop market.
“Over the last few years, we realized there was a real opportunity to solve problems customers have, especially in commercial, flat and low-slope roof space,” Kerstens said. “It can be addressed through the balance of system—frame, racking, how you install the system, etc. There are significant opportunities for cost savings.”
It became a parallel effort for the company to produce superior solar cells and design better framing and racking. Making solar possible on roofs that were physically or economically difficult became Beamreach Solar’s main focus, and thus the Sprint product was released before Beamreach solar cells were ready to commercialize. The company currently uses “reliable, top tier, well known solar cell manufacturers” integrated into its own framing and racking system design.
“We have a pilot plant here in Silicon Valley for our own solar cell design,” Kerstens said. “Scaling that up takes some time. We decided we should make this great product available to customers as soon as possible and as much as possible, so we decided to source solar cells elsewhere.”
The 60-cell Sprint system has a maximum power rating of 300 W. Thinner glass (2 mm) and use of composite material for the framing and mounting makes for a lightweight system. Including the integrated racking (with a convenient “handle” on its backside for easy carrying), a full one-module system weighs in at 38 lbs.
The panels are equipped with a “foot” that adheres to the roofing membrane, making a secure attachment with no penetrations, no ballast. The adhesive is already applied to the feet; installers just remove a release liner and press the feet into the roof. Sprint can withstand 115-mph winds and has been tested to support loads up to 5,400 Pa. Cabling and cable management is already integrated into the system, so essentially the only other item a contractor needs to worry about is the inverter.
Such a new product to the solar industry may need some reassurances to its longevity, and Kerstens said that everything in the bill of materials—solar cells, adhesives, composites—can be trusted.
“We are building on the long-standing relationships with our suppliers,” he said. “When it comes to the performance of the frame and racking, what we’re using has a long track record in other industries and has been real-world tested. We are confident with standing behind this product.
“We will also be using the same integrated frame/racking structure for our own solar cells,” Kerstens continued. “The benefits are the same—extreme light weight, fast install times, no need for grounding or tools, high backing density. All those benefits come across whether we use third-party-sourced cells or our own high performance cells.”
One potential concern about the Sprint system is it cannot be easily removed from a roof; the adhesive makes a permanent bond. Kerstens explained this bond as one “you wouldn’t want to get rid of.” If a roof needs to be replaced, panels can be detached from the feet, and the feet can be removed with the old roofing membrane. Once a new membrane is installed, new feet can be ordered and reattached to the existing panels. In this sense “removal and re-installation is dramatically faster and a significantly lower cost” than other commercial roof replacements that house solar systems. If a solar system needs permanent replacement, again the solar modules can be moved anywhere, but the feet will stay attached to the roof.
Kerstens said Beamreach Solar’s transition from a solar cell manufacturer to a system provider was based on expanding the solar industry and making solar more accessible.
“How do we help make the pie bigger for solar? How can more roofs go solar? How do we remove obstacles?” he asked. “There are so many other things we could address that nobody else has. We are providing a more multi-facet solution to customers than just a high-performance cell at a competitive cost.”