Interview: How Solpod hopes to break the constraints of rooftop PV

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pv magazine Australia: Solpod hopes to enable renters and other customers previously excluded from the solar market to join the renewable revolution by installing a rooftop PV system. Where did the idea for Solpod come from? 

James Larratt: For starters, Solpod is a prefabricated, re-deployable solar system which has been developed for large, flat rooftops, such as shopping centres, warehouses and schools.  The original spark for Solpod came from acknowledging all the rational excuses for people and businesses not having yet adopted rooftop solar. This includes renters who may only be in a property short term, or landlords, who may want to redevelop the site. 

So while rooftop solar can be cheaper than the grid, it is not for these markets because they simply cannot make the long term commitment for solar. Solpod is unlike standard rooftop solar, in that it can be economically removed and re-deployed. Essentially, Solpod frees potential solar baulkers from the traditional commitment solar entails. 

We also solved many other problems with solar for business. For example, we do not penetrate the roof and so do not risk voiding roof warranties, nor is our installation a risk of creating leaks, and rust. The whole process is easier and simpler too, requiring fewer people and less time the potential disruption of installation is reduced. With a small team we can install 200 kWp of pods in one day. 

How is it that the Solpod system can be relocated? 

We assemble our 12 panel pods in a warehouse under quality control, truck them to site and crane them onto the roof. The pods are just as easily removed in reverse. 

Do you require special modules?

Our technology enables us to choose the best value 72 cell panel. Solpod has designed and manufactured purpose-built extrusions and components. Our design has been streamlined by detailed structural analysis and wind tunnel testing.

What benefits does mobility provide for commercial clients? 

Rooftop solar is an amazing, proven technology. It can be cheaper than the grid. But great solar savings depend on a 15-30 year operating life which is beyond what many commercial customers can commit to. As I said before, renters may not be able to commit more than a few years and landlords may one day wish to redevelop the site. So while 30 year operating life at site might be an appropriate assumption for the technology, it may not be appropriate for the customer. Being relocatable has enabled Solpod to break the constraint of both the operating life of solar technology and the commitment of a particular rooftop site. 

How well is government and industry recognising and investing in startups like Solpod? What can be done to improve this? 

Well, firstly let’s acknowledge the success of the Australian rooftop solar industry in general.  Our rooftop solar industry is one of the largest and most efficient in the world, so it should not be a big surprise that on the back of this success there are also startups like Solpod pushing further. And while the industry is extremely competitive, it is also very supportive. Solar Cutters is a great example, it is a quality focused, industry community with a culture of sharing for continued industry improvement. Through our involvement we have benefited from feedback from leading installers and engineers.  

We have also received government support from ARENA and Property NSW (PNSW), who are one of our founding customers. PNSW are great supporters as well as beneficiaries, after we installed 80 kWp of pods in a half a day of lifting.

How helpful has ARENA’s support been through the early stages? 

ARENA have supported us to fast track our commercialisation. In addition to the $975,000 in grant funding we have also benefited from their insight and the rigour of their assessment and reporting processes.  

Is Solpod obligated to assist in the relocation of its solar arrays? 

While customers are not obligated to use Solpod to relocate our systems, our involvement in any relocation would enable warranties to be maintained.

The Solpod innovation opens up solar energy access to more people in Australia and overseas, what’s on the horizon? 

The Australian roof top solar industry is the most mature, efficient and competitive in the world. If we can prove our technology here, then we can be competitive across many markets around the globe. So our priority is proving ourselves here and then the world!

Interview by Blake Matich