Tag: "unirac"


  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



  11:02:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 644 words  
Categories: Solar Decathlon - 2013

Solar Decathlon Update - Coming Together

We spent yesterday with the great group of folks from Team USC working to re-install their solar PV system. Here’s our update.

Although the Team had the house entirely complete for the Send-off Celebration, it had to be deconstructed into its three component pieces for the trip down to Irvine.  That meant cutting open drywall and unbolting sections from each other before the three sections could be loaded onto trucks.  But it also meant that the solar array, which actually consists of four branch circuits, had to be partially disassembled since three of the four cross section boundaries. Yesterday’s task was to restore those connections in a manner that was up to code - since these houses need to pass a rigorous inspection process before being hooked up to the local “micro-grid” - and help the Team stay on track.

While next weekend the Irvine competition site will be a solar village, right now it is very much a construction zone with massive cranes in all directions manipulating the different homes into place.  Here was the view to the North from atop fluxHome:

Cranes everywhere


The view to the South featured a similar display of activity - and the Great Park’s trademark orange sphere is there in the background:

Cranes to the south


With all of that activity going on, the competition organizers were taking no chances with safety - everyone entering the competition area was required to wear hard hats, eye protection and proper foot protection.  When working on the roof - where I spent the most of my day - harnesses and fall protection gear were mandatory.  In fact, if a team member is spotted without proper safety gear, the team is docked competition points.  A powerful incentive to follow the rules and maximize safety - always a good lesson to learn.

This image shows us fully decked out in all of our safety gear, working on restoring one of the branch circuit connections:

Velvet & Jim working on fluxHome


As you can probably tell, it was a beautiful day to be working on a solar project, particularly an inspiring gig like USC’s fluxHome.  Here’s a view of the roof yesterday:

Roof view from fluxHome at Solar Decathlon site


In the foreground you see the massive, automated skylight that forms the aperture for the “solar chimney” that is an integral part of the home’s systems.   Behind the skylight is a portion of the solar array.

Support Team USC

It is a privilege to be a part of the Solar Decathlon - but for the teams involved it is also a massive fund raising project and success, or failure, can be tied to that aspect as much as a great design.  In fact we learned yesterday that one of the teams from Virginia had to drop out of the contest because they couldn’t raise enough money to complete their design and then ship it to California.  So sad to think that two years worth of hard work went down the drain because they fell short on their fund raising.  (As they said in The Right Stuff, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.")

While Team USC has not suffered such a depressing fate, they could still use your support.  So if you would be interested in contributing to the team, you can jump over to their Support page and make a donation.

A Little Help from Their Friends…

Finally, while we were taking a break on the ground, we came across a film team that was documenting the Team’s progress and they told us about this video that was shot while we were doing the initial installation.  The entire video is well worth watching as it documents the efforts of the four teams from California that are competing this year.  But we have to admit, we are partial to the section that begins around the 35 minute mark - and stick around for the happy conclusion after the break!

Best of luck to all the schools competing, and especially to Team USC - Fight On!


  07:25:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 323 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Solar Decathlon - 2013

Solar Decathlon 2013 - Right Around the Corner

The 2013 Solar Decathlon is right around the corner with the Opening Weekend October 3-6 at Irvine’s Great Park.  As readers of this blog know, we have been assisting Team USC (Fight ON!) with the solar aspects of their entry and we will be going down to Irvine on Wednesday (tomorrow!) to assist in reconnecting the array.

On Monday, as teams from all across the country and around the world converged at the competition site, USC team member Evyn Larson and facutly coach Gary Paige, were interviewed by KQED for the California report.  Here’s the tape:

Just before the team took the house apart and shipped it to Irvine, they gathered with their supporters last week on the USC campus for a send-off celebration.  Here are some pics that we got of the crowds touring fluxHome…

Evyn & Jason


Team leaders Evyn Larson and Jason Kang share the stage before the start of the send-off celebration.


fluxHome interior looking toward the kitchen


Interior view of fluxHome looking toward the kitchen.  That is Gary on the left talking on the cell phone - no doubt trying to make sure that some still missing piece of equipment arrives in time.

Speaking of equipment, the equipment room certainly became a lot more crowded than it was when we were doing our install!

Crowded equipment room


Fortunately, the supremely-talented Velvet was able to route much of our conduit on the back side of that wall, leaving critical wall space for other components.  Good planning!

In-kind sponsors made it happen


There can be no doubt that no project like this can be completed without the help of many.  Above is a partial listing of in-kind sponsors and Run on Sun is proud to be featured prominently on that list.  (That’s us just to the right of Enphase - click the image to see the full list.)

And of course, no gig at USC would be complete without the Band…

The USC band sets the pace


I wonder if they can get them to take a road trip to Irvine - talk about a home field advantage!


  08:21:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 65 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Decathlon - 2013

fluxHome Final Walkthrough Video

Team USC has produced their final video walkthrough of fluxHome, their entry in the 2013 Solar Decathlon - check it out!

My favorite bit - that they managed to work in a shot of an Enphase microinverter on top of the solar panels.  Good that they had a spare!

Oh, and in case you want to see the very latest progress, check out the Live Feed.  Fight on!


  11:12:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 238 words  
Categories: Solar Decathlon - 2013

Solar Install at USC's fluxHome

Last Monday we joined the USC Solar Decathlon team to finish the solar power installation.  We installed 34 Enphase Energy M215 microinverters and 34 Bosch 265 Watt solar modules.  We got some pics and we wanted to share them with you.

The first challenge was to get the Bosch panels to the roof where the Enphase microinverters were waiting.  One fork lift later and that problem was solved:

going up via fork liftActually, as there were two pallets of solar panels, we got to repeat this particular exercise twice!

Once our panels were staged on the roof, we were ready to go:

Ready to installThe USC team benefited from kind donations of all of their solar equipment: modules from Bosch, racking from Unirac and the microinverters from Enphase.  In this photo you can see all three, ready for final installation.  Labor - from Run on Sun and other contractors - has also been donated, helping the Team make fluxHome a reality despite a tight budget.

Before actually installing a module, we always take time to test it:

testing a bosch solar module before installation Not surprisingly, all of our solar modules tested good and we could begin the methodical process of installing.

panel going inAfter several hours on the bright, white roof, the team of Chris, Allain and Tyler, was able to look over a good day’s work.

solar installation complete at USC's fluxHome

Next up - finishing the rest of the house and full system testing before dis-assembly in preparation for the trip down to Irvine in October.

Nice job, Team USC - Fight On!

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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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