2018 seemed to be a ‘tipping’ year for a lot of the equipment installed in 2009 and 2010. We uncovered a number of wider spread issues, and were involved in some warranty campaigns. There were some excellent learning opportunities as we completely rebuilt over 30 systems for a few very different reasons. We learned some key considerations that need emphasis as we move forward with Solar design and installation in Canada in 2019 and beyond.
The first group of projects required new asphalt shingles on their roofs. When these installations were completed back in 2009 and 2010, the roofs were already a few years old. There were great learning opportunities in each of the cases. With each roof, any leaks, and the worst shingle wear, happened outside the solar array. The shingles under the solar were in the best shape of any location on the roof because of the shelter the solar panels had provided. This has been pitched by solar professionals as a benefit since day-one BUT we can now see multiple cases where this is true, adding some hard evidence.
The removal and replacement was quicker and less costly than customers had anticipated. We typically coordinated directly with the roofing company and the removal was done 1-2 days prior in 1 day and reinstallation done the day after in 1 day. Very little new material was required and many small problems from the initial installation or from wear-and-tear were fixed. The solar array actually benefitted from new hardware (flashing in one case) and being restored to a ‘like-new’ state – ready for the next decade of Canadian weather.
Birds and rodents are a real problem and can be very expensive tenants under the solar array. From pigeons to squirrels, a solar array is a great new place under which to raise a family. The damage to wiring and the panels themselves can be extensive and costly. A wire-mesh or solid metal rodent guard around the entire perimeter of the array is highly recommended. This can sound expensive but usually equates to a fraction of the cost of the damage one family of squirrels can do.
Our second big lesson was that warranties aren’t as important as the companies that back them. Everyone who installed solar got some sort of warranty with their purchase of panels, inverters and racking. Now, as failing product is rearing its ugly head, we go back to these warranties seeking replacement or compensation. Many of the companies are no-where to be found, or have unreasonable requests for testing, shipping etc. that make repair or replacement under warranty impractical. Companies like Canadian Solar and Enphase have stepped up in big ways for our clients in 2018. I chose to centre these two out because of the customer-centred approach both has taken to standing behind their product. Enphase has stood behind their legacy product and even offered at-cost upgrades for those who would chose to take a leap forward with newer technology. They also are providing Hammond Renewable Energy with ‘seed-stock’ so that we have a full inventory of inverters and cabling to better meet the needs of legacy customers. This is in stark contrast to some panel manufacturers who are long gone, or ask to have customers ship product back to a facility for repair – shipping cost usually out-weighs the cost of a new replacement panel. Inverters that had 5 year warranties are being replaced before their 10th birthday with the customer on the hook for 100% of parts and labour.
Lastly, some systems just weren’t designed for Canada’s unique blend of wind and snow. We saw bent ground mount arrays and cracked panels where wind, snow and ice weren’t properly accounted for. When choosing your equipment or designing the support structure, make sure that engineering is done for your specific region!