State of the Industry: Solar PV & Metal Roofing


State of the Industry: Solar PV & Metal Roofing. Rob Haddock, Founder and CEO of S-5!

Like all sectors of the economy, our industry has seen raw material price increases and supply chain backlogs like never before―mostly due to the fallout from the pandemic. Steel companies had shut down production and inventories became decimated. That’s raw material at its source. Other mills beyond steel, like aluminum, stainless, lumber and consumer goods had shutdowns as well (both domestic and foreign).

What is your forecast for the upcoming years in terms of renewables and especially solar PV now that new legislations are coming?

If the solar provisions are preserved and the final Build Back Better Act becomes law, it will trigger an avalanche of solar development in every state across the country. And the amount of solar deployed in the U.S. could triple to 300 GW in the next five years. The use of renewables and solar PV was already on the rise, despite the pandemic. The interest in solar continues to increase primarily because it makes good financial sense, with the cost of solar significantly decreasing over the last decade improving return-on-investment and internal rate of return (IRR) metrics. It is a perfect example of environmental capitalism!

Rob Haddock, Founder and CEO of S-5

Why is the metal roof the ideal host for mounting photovoltaic (PV)?

The short story is: Because it’s the only roof type guaranteed to outlast the life of the solar. Metal roofing provides an ideal platform for mounting rooftop solar because it is the only roof type with a service life exceeding that of the solar (in the range of 50-70 years). The service life of a solar PV system averages 32.5 years and climbs each year. Alternative roofing types will expire long before the life of the PV system, leading to costly disassembly of the PV array, re-roofing and re-assembly.

This expense erodes the otherwise attractive financial metrics of roof-mounted PV. Metal is also the most sustainable roofing type and in combination with S-5! attachments lowers solar installation costs. In conclusion, the “standing seam” metal roof is the only roof type really worthy of consideration for solar PV. Standing seam roofs also enable solar mounting completely free of roof penetrations, preserving all roof warranties.

We know that you have co-invented with your son a rail-less direct-attach solar solution; what are the advantages of rail-less mounting?

Advantages of rail-less mounting:

  1. Greater flexibility in module placement
  2. Simplified, lower-cost logistics/material handling
  3. Lightweight solution (3 lbs. (1.4kg)/kW—85% less weight and 90% less volume than railed systems)
  4. Reduced material cost
  5. Less freight cost —up to 50% lower due to less weight and volume.
  6. Reduced labor cost
  7. Reduced dead load to the roof
  8. 25% better load distribution to the roof
  9. Faster on-and-off the job
  10. Strength to resist any wind speed (low profile reduces wind effects)
  11. Aesthetically pleasing due to low-profile solution

Rail-mounting components for a 250 kW system, weighing in at 5,000# would require a big-rig truck. The same size system in rail-less components, fits in the trunk of a car (750 lbs). You can carry all you need for an 8 kW residential system up the ladder in your backpack— tools included. When it comes to container shipping, inventory costs and storage on or off the jobsite—the savings are multiplied.

Can you tell us about the ease and cost of installation going “rail-less”?

Again, far fewer components are involved―fewer parts to assemble translates to faster installation.

The S-5! PVKIT® rail-less, direct-attachTM solution significantly reduces freight, handling and labor costs. The key to labor savings is simplicity: requiring 65-75% fewer components, they are positioned, and modules installed “on-the-fly.” We have numerous time-study efficiencies (on real jobs) down to 72 seconds per module―all in. Installers report a net labor savings of 30 to 50% compared to rail.

Finally, shipping long lengths of rail to project sites and transporting them up to a rooftop is costly and often a logistical nightmare. With the PVKIT, shipping costs for the mounting system are 70% lower than railed mounting systems, with fewer logistical hassles transporting the product to distribution, then the site, and then within the site and onto the roof.

A traditional rail system of 750 kW would normally require two or more big-rig trucks to transport (15,000#). At 2,250#, the PVKIT fits in a short-bed pickup truck with plenty of room to spare. There are other considerations when it comes to roof attachments and roof types in general, and these comments should not be taken too broadly. I am speaking with reference to our own products and metal roofs specifically. I cannot speak to other roof types or other “rail-less” vendors with respect to these economies. And there are always cases where rail may be the better choice.

When you decide to install solar, what are the improvements in terms of the lifetime return on investment (ROI) from metal roofing?

Good question. There is not a single “correct” answer for your question because it depends on the roof type. According to a recent Berkeley study, solar has an average life of 32.4 years—again depending on the quality of the solar components. That number improves each year. And of course, it is an average. Some systems in that study are at 35 years. One module producer is now offering a 40-year warranty.

Metal has a life of 40 to 100 years―or more—depending upon the type of metal used. This is NOT dependent upon the climate at the project site as with most other roof types. The fact that metal outlasts the solar is hardly disputable, but when making this kind of comparison with other roof types, there are multiple factors involved. A commercial TPO single-ply roof has an expected life of 15 years. That’s less than half the life of the solar— and that’s if the roof is new. If the roof’s service life is 15 years, the answer is easily 100%+ improvement to the ROI for metal. The solar and roof together must be looked upon as a single asset with roof replacement included when it is eminent.

In my decades-long career of rooftop solar, roof replacement is rarely, if EVER considered in the ROI analysis presented to the buyer. Inverter replacement is factored in at 10 to 15 years, but not the roof itself. In cases of non-metal roofs, roof replacement is inevitable. It is not a question of “if” but “when”.

Continue reading: Solar photovoltaic market projected to reach USD 1,000.92 billion by 2028

To ignore that factor is a very costly oversight because roof replacement will shatter the theoretical ROI of the new solar roof. For aged, retrofitted roofs it can be far worse. If the same TPO roof considered in my example is already 5-years-old—well, now it has a remaining life of less than a third of the solar, and the ROI improvement for metal is more like 200%.

Asphalt shingle is 10 to 20+ years, depending upon its quality (which also affects its price) and is dependent on the climate of the project site. Asphalt dries out and embrittles over time and exposure, so in hail-prone areas, its expected life is shorter. In wet climates, algae growth may also shorten service life. Metal is not affected by these factors. Concrete tile may have a service life of 15 or 20 years―or even more depending upon the quality of the tile. But tile is also heavy and expensive to mount to properly. It is also prone to hail damage.

Each project must be considered individually, but because metal is the only roof material that outlives solar―it is a foregone conclusion that it is the best host roof. And the initial cost difference between the best roof and something less is minimal compared to the value of solar on a roof of any type when the two are considered a single asset as they should be. With all that said, metal roofs should also be assessed for remaining service life. We have seen solar installed on some 50-plus-year-old metal roofs that are close to end-of-life. That is also short-sighted.

How eco-friendly and sustainable are the products from S-5! ?

By installing solar on metal roofs with lower transport, equipment and labor costs, the PVKIT is proving to be a “green” innovation in the solar and roofing industries both.  Production of this system saves an estimated 90% of the energy used to produce rail mountings and saves 85% of carbon emissions in transportation.

Recyclable coated steel roofs have a demonstrated service life of 60+ years—three times that of any other commercial roof type. And they are highly recycled, so they are not contributing to landfills.

We manufacture the PVKIT in the U.S.A., made entirely of 300 series 18-8 stainless steel and 6061 T6 certified structural aluminum. Stainless riser components are turned by CNC lathe. The aluminum clamps or brackets are extruded and CNC-machined. All fasteners are stainless steel. The award-winning S-5! manufacturing facility in Iowa Park, Texas utilizes state-of-the-art equipment and automation. It is certified to ISO 9001:2015 quality assurance standards. Every aspect of the supply chain is tracked, including lot traceability and Certificates of Conformance (CoC). All raw material is certified to ASTM standards and regularly audited by UL, FM, ICC, TÜV, and SAI Global to ensure proper QA plant procedures. Unlike most others who outsource manufacturing/procurement, the S-5! plant is solely designed, customized and dedicated to manufacturing certified mounting solutions.

We manufacture the PVKIT from highly recyclable material using energy-efficient processes, resulting in a demonstrably smaller carbon footprint. Aluminum and stainless are two of the most recycled materials on earth. Their scrap value is sufficiently high to ensure their destination is not a landfill. We recycle all scrap from manufacturing. Roof-mounted solar PV powers 36% of the S-5! factory, producing 400,000 kWh annually with plans to double solar production to 70% of consumption by 2024.

Would you like to add any final thoughts?

Solar is a big investment. Most solar designers and EPCs have little knowledge about roofing. Roofing is a minimal cost when compared to solar, yet it determines the integrity of the two assets as a whole. One depends upon the other. No roofing will last forever, yet that is often the short-sighted assumption made. This is tragic and will drastically affect the entire financial equity equation with very disappointing results.

The assumptions made in the evaluation of the hardware that marries one to the other is equally flawed in terms of life-cycle performance, warranties, testing and engineering, evidence of certifications and so forth. For heaven’s sake, this hardware investment which is only about 2-3% of the finished cost is responsible to hold the whole system onto the roof for 30-plus years! Think of it as you would an engine in a race car. The roof is the chassis of the car—its importance is huge and its cost relatively insignificant by comparison; the solar is the engine—the star performer. Think of the mounting hardware as the motor mounts holding one to the other: Now, would you put a Ferrari engine on a Ford Escort chassis and bolt it down with 2- 3/8” bolts made God-knows- where or how? Think about it.

Rob Haddock

Founder and CEO of S-5!

Is a former contractor, award-winning roof-forensics expert, author, lecturer and building envelope scientist who has worked in various aspects of metal roofing for five decades. He began ground- breaking innovation of penetration-free ancillary attachment solutions in 1991 and holds 60+ U.S. and foreign patents. Together with his son, Dustin, they co-invented, a rail-less direct-attach solar solution that provides a simple, secure method to “lay & play” PV modules with tested, engineered, cost-saving, attachment to the only roof type that outlasts the solar—the metal roof.

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