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Open Letter to Unirac: Say It Ain't So!


  08:53:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 837 words  
Categories: Safety, Ranting

Open Letter to Unirac: Say It Ain't So! -- UPDATED

UPDATE (4/7/2014) – We just heard from the Product Manager for SM-E and he tells us that Unirac expects to have an announcement about the fate of SM-E by the end of April.  Of course as soon as we know more, you’ll know more—watch this space.

Unirac logo

We have used Unirac’s products exclusively since we started in this business some seven years ago.  We have worked with Unirac to supply donations to the owner of a wind-damaged array and for the USC team at the Solar Decathlon.  We trust their products and believe in the company.

But what we have heard recently leaves us pleading, “say it ain’t so.” In response, here’s our Open Letter to Unirac Management:

To: The Decision-Makers Regarding Solarmount Evolution

From: Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run on Sun

Subject: Say It Ain’t So

Dear Folks -

You may not know me, but many in your company do.  I am the owner of a solar installation company in Pasadena, California, and I frequently blog about issues in the solar industry.  Today my issue is your apparent decision to discontinue the Solarmount Evolution product.  Folks, with all due respect, this is a terrible decision.  Please let me explain.

end clamp with conventional solarmount

Conventional Solarmount Rail & End Clamp.

We have always used your products on our projects - whether conventional Solarmount, tilt legs, Clicksys, Fastfoot, or Solarmount Evolution - Unirac has been or brand of choice.  We appreciated our shared values - maximizing the durability of the systems that we were installing for our clients.

But one thing about conventional Solarmount always bothered us - the design of the end clamps that you featured.

That design has just never felt right - for a couple of reasons.  For one, there’s the angle - no matter what you do, that clamp is never truly perpendicular to the rail.  Over time, as things expand and contract in the sun, that nut is almost certain to loosen a bit and that clamp just looks like it longs to go “somewhere else".

But then we encountered a serious failure and that got us worrying about a second issue.

That T-bolt is stainless steel but it is sitting in an extruded aluminum channel.  I had seen an overly enthusiastic installer torque that bolt right through the channel - clearly not following procedures, but then there’s lots of folks out there who don’t follow recommended torque settings!   But when I saw what could happen when bad installation practices encountered a generational windstorm, I really became concerned.

FailureHere that T-bolt has chewed its way completely through the aluminum channel resulting in a catastrophic failure of the array.  When we came upon that failure, we turned to you to help us make it right - which we did, together.

The solution involved your Solarmount Evolution product and, having installed it once, I vowed I would never install conventional Solarmount again.  Why?  Because you had truly created a product that was superior in every sense: vastly stronger, clearly more secure over time, and even easier to work with on the roof!

Unirac solarmount(e) end clamp

Solarmount Evolution Rail & End Clamp

Look at the difference between the end clamp on the left versus the one above and ask yourself - which of these would you want securing a solar array to your roof for the next twenty-five years?  Not even a close call, is it?

You had done what every quality manufacture strives to do - you had built the better mousetrap.  We told everyone we spoke to about the benefits of your new product and we used it exclusively on all of our projects thereafter.

We heard some people complain that it cost more than conventional Solarmount.  Frankly, we didn’t notice and we didn’t care.  The product was so demonstrably superior that what difference did it make if it cost a few cents/Watt more?  We certainly didn’t ever lose any business because we specified it - but I can say with total knowledge that we closed some deals simply because of it.

So now we hear that you are going to discontinue the product altogether.

We would implore you to rethink this decision.

Some products, like some television shows, take a while to catch on with the public.  After all, NBC nearly failed to pickup Seinfeld, a program that many critics ultimately considered one of the best ever aired.  Solarmount Evolution is that good - but it needs a longer run to gain traction in the industry.

Here’s a suggestion - you are rolling out a new product for use with commercial flat roofs that greatly reduces your costs in providing that solution to the industry.  Take some of that money that you are going to save thanks to that new product and plow it back into major marketing for Solarmount Evolution.  (Maybe hire Solar Fred to handle the campaign - who better to kick start a product in this field?)

Solarmount Evolution deserves another season - it would be tragic if you were to cancel a hit before it gets a chance to find its audience and shine.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run on Sun


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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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