Image source: Akeena Solar
When Akeena Solar debuted their Andalay panels last year, it was already a break from the mold by offering the only solar panel that includes an integrated racking, wiring and grounding system. Most conventional systems have to be constructed on the roof and then panels are attached to the racking.
This year, Akeena kicked solar installation up a notch by moving past the panel and upgrading the rest of the racking and wiring. The system now comes with a prefabricated combiner box, which is what combines the wires from the inverter downstream with the wires from the panels upstream. This might seem small, but in the field techs create the combiner box and MC wire runs from lots of different pieces. If there is a problem with the system, this is often one of the first places to check. Another upgrade is a height adjustable racking, which means its versatile for flat roofs or s-tiles roofs, and also allows more air flow underneath which is important for optimal performance. In California, the state rebates are also partially determined by distance between roof surface and panel, thus the ability to adjust height will help to maximize customer rebate.
The Andalay panels also include small clips which can secure all of the loose wires. Typically installers use zip ties (plastic ties) to secure just about everything on the system. Integrated clips means a less likely chance that those zip ties eventually warp under sun exposure and break.
Why Are Integrated Panels Important?
Not having an integerated grounding system means that copper wire must be run and touch each panel throughout the entire system. With the price of copper rising, this is a huge burden (not to mention a weak point for thieves who remove the copper and recycle it for quick cash. Note: These systems are very dangerous and we don't recommend you try this as it could be fatal).
The Andalay panel also reduced parts by 70% and reduced the chance for something going wrong due to human error during construction. When you're up on a roof and its pushing 120 degrees F, and you've got a million things on your mind, and a two hour drive home, there is a high probability that you might forget something.
Downsides of streamlined systems
Streamlined systems look really nice to customers because they are one giant block and look very sleek. The downside comes in maintenance. If something goes wrong in the middle of the system, it involves removing half the panels to test and fix it because everything is attached to everything else.
Also, some cities and counties are still leery about allowing integrated or grounding on just one point on the system. Before purchasing this system, check and make sure that you will still be able to pass inspection.
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