Long-term projections predict substantial growth in alternative energy sourcing, especially solar. There are even projections that solar could comprise up to 30 percent of the entire installed energy capacity by 2040, up from today’s 5 percent. That’s good news for companies betting on alternative energy.
There could, however, be a gray lining to their gleaming, silver cloud. Declining prices of alternative energy are prompting governments to cut support even while competition is growing. Driving costs down is both vital and a real challenge for these companies. The long-term outlook is rosy, but getting there is going to be tough.
Solar panel prices have dropped ten-fold in ten years, but not so the labor to install them. “It’s true that the costs of structure and overall balance of systems are improving,” said Rodriguez Labastida, Senior Research Analyst, Navigant Consulting. Not only have panel prices dropped, but inverters have also dropped 30 to 40 percent in the last five years. “It’s the other parts, such as labor and project management, that’s less flexible in price. They have less margin for decreasing costs,” he said.
Solar photovoltaic installation requires panels to be mounted, wire harnesses to be attached, and supporting structures to be held in place. Not only must these structures last for the lifetime of the installation — which can be measured in decades — inefficient fastening and difficult installation procedures causes inordinate cost.
Welding isn't serviceable and it’s difficult to get the power needed on-site. Nuts and bolts can be laborious to install and are subject to vibration loosening over time.— Sean McGain-HardingStrategic Applications Director in Europe
STANLEY® Engineered Fastening
Fastening can involve welding, rivets, or threaded solutions with nuts and bolts. “The problem with welding is that it’s not serviceable and it’s often difficult to get the power needed to many of the sites where these are assembled,” said Sean McGain-Harding, STANLEY® Engineered Fastening’s Strategic Applications Director in Europe. “Nuts and bolts, on the other hand, can be laborious to install and are subject to vibration loosening over time, a concern in both solar and wind.”
McGain-Harding points to STANLEY® Engineered Fastening’s Spiralock® threaded joint for use in applications where heavy shock and vibration, extreme temperatures, long hours of strenuous operation, and millions of loading cycles are present. Another product McGain-Harding highlighted is one STANLEY® created specifically for solar and wind installations. The NeoBolt® is a non-breakstem lockbolt fastening system. The two-piece fasteners feature unique design characteristics such as annular locking grooves for vibration resistance, fatigue performance, and avoidance of loosening by unscrewing. One STANLEY® customer, Ingemetal Solar, noted that NeoBolt® helped save between 20 and 25 percent in hand-labor-related installation costs over threaded solutions.
While these products in and of themselves reduce the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of a project, initially installing them can be hand-labor intensive without a power tool. “We’re developing a cordless installation tool. Historically most of our installation tools have been pneumatic or hydraulic, but you can imagine the problems they could cause at remote construction sites,” McGain-Harding said. “You really need a cordless tool.” To that end, STANLEY’s first cordless installation tool will be tailored for NeoBolt® fasteners and available worldwide in Q3 of 2019.