A long-time Southern California solar installer, Barry Cinnamon was frustrated with residential installations. The rails were always cumbersome to him—loading them onto trucks, carrying them onto roofs, attaching panels to them. Back in 2002, he thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the module frames could be the rack itself?”
He patented the idea in 2004 and sold solar systems with integrated racking through Westinghouse Solar before getting out of the game in 2012. During this time, Zep Solar also designed an integrated racking system, and others in the industry started considering rail-less options.
“In 2012, I got back into doing residential installations and saw these problems still exist,” Cinnamon said of rail-based systems. “So I started Spice Solar in 2013. It’s a similar concept: The frame of the solar panels is different, but everything else is the same.”
Spice Solar’s product is essentially a solar module with racking built in to the frame. The same industry-standard flashings and L-feet are used to connect the system to the roof. There are just no rails, and the frame looks a little different than traditional models.
A Spice Solar system requires a few provided splices to connect panels together and brackets to mount to L-feet, but when compared to a rail-based system, it has considerably fewer parts and pieces.
Not to be confused with rail-less systems, which usually use clamps to secure modules to roof-mounts, the Spice Solar system uses its custom frame to act as a rail. The splices and brackets connect through special grooves in the frame, so no clamping is needed.
Spice Solar licenses its unique framing technology, and thus far has partnerships developed with module manufacturers Boviet Solar and Auxin Solar. The module company incorporates the Spice frame into its existing assembly lines.
“The frame is just a different aluminum extrusion profile,” Cinnamon said. “Module manufacturers have their own favorite frame manufacturers. Any frame company can make these frames. So Boviet sources that just like any other frames.”
Cinnamon said it has been a process getting module manufacturers on board because these companies are invested in producing the cheapest possible product, and a unique frame costs more.
“The pricing of modules is getting lower and lower—that’s not going to stop. So for a module, it’s important to differentiate,” he said. “Boviet can sell their regular modules at 50-cents/watt, and although good, they’re not that different from other module brands. Or they can sell a Spice module at 52-cents/watt and have something that differentiates themselves in the market.”
While Auxin is more of a boutique manufacturer, Boviet can offer integrated-Spice modules on a large scale. Installers interested in the Spice Solar system can purchase small quantities through Spice and Auxin or make large orders through Boviet.
Even though a Spice Solar system is slightly more expensive at the panel-level, the cost savings from reduced labor and fewer hardware pieces more than make up the difference.
“This industry is all about reducing cost. From an installer perspective, there’s so much pressure,” Cinnamon said. “Our focus is to reduce the cost and streamline the labor. Installers are skeptical about things that will save labor until they adopt it. But they’re very open to things that will save parts costs.”