Sunlink expands beyond mounting system market with Blue Oak acquisition

“The opportunity for Sunlink over time is the balance-of-system space,” Christopher Tilley told pv magazine in an interview. “We want to drive down costs, and what our customers are asking is for us to integrate [different equipment] in the process.”

The acquisition puts Sunlink into a pool of suppliers who sell both racking systems and combiner boxes. Texas-based Cooper Industries also offers both. Cooper has produced racks by special orders before, but it launched its first mounting system at Intersolar North America in San Francisco this week, says Todd Davis, vice president of Cooper B-Line.

It now faces competition from several inverter companies, such as Xantrex in Canada and SMA Solar Technology in Germany, which also sell combiner boxes.

Interestingly, Blue Oak Energy launched Blue Agave Racking Systems, a joint venture with Architectural Glass and Aluminum in California, last year. Blue Agave designs racks for ground-mounted projects, making it a rival of Sunlink.

Blue Oak designs combiner boxes, which provide the connections between the wires that run from each solar string and the cables that ferry the electricity to an inverter. Established in 2006, the company was part of Blue Oak Energy, which began in 2003 as a solar energy project engineering firm and counts the 1.9 megawatt installation at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley as one of its high-profile projects.

Sunlink, also based in California, develops mounting systems for commercial rooftop and ground-mounted systems. The company has offered the rooftop designs for six years and launched its ground-mounted racks last year, a move to target the growing utility market in the U.S.

The rapid growth of the solar market worldwide has inspired many startups to develop technologies for shaving off the costs of installing a solar power project, from materials to labor.

Mounting system companies try to differentiate their products by emphasizing the simplicity of their designs and the ease of assembling the parts. Installers in the residential and commercial markets say a mounting system could account for roughly 5-10 percent of the cost of installation (equipment and labor).