All Energy: looking to the commercial rooftop market

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The second and final day of the All Energy trade show in Melbourne has drawn to a close with installers and suppliers reporting a growing number of commercial rooftop arrays constitutes a key development in the Australian solar market.

With generally high electricity prices and abundant sunshine, the business case for commercial rooftop installations is becoming increasingly compelling. Against a cooling post-FIT residential market, Australia’s solar industry is looking towards the segment as an area of growth.

Difficulties, however, in the permitting of larger installations and regulatory roadblocks applied by utilities are acting as a brake on the sector.

Solar monitoring company Solar-Log – whose products are most effective for larger commercial installations – told pv magazine developing commercial rooftops is demanding in many Australian states. Christian Fahrig, Solar-Log’s senior technical engineer, said utility conditions, such as zero grid export, and costly and slow permitting processes are big challenges for commercial rooftop installers.

State utility requirements a burden

Commercial rooftop project developer SolarMatrix echoed the sentiment. The west Australian firm has installed commercial rooftop arrays on supermarkets and wineries and SolarMatrix’ Georg Dreher told pv magazine the state utility places a condition on installations larger than 30 kW that no electricity is to be fed back into the grid. This condition requires SolarMax engineers to put in place hardware to ensure this, raising installation costs.

The permitting process required by the Western Power utility is also onerous, said Dreher. Dragging to more than three months in the case of even relatively fast approvals, obtaining permission for a commercial installation is an expensive process for the installer, Dreher reported at the All Energy trade show.

UpSolar opens 100kW array

Module supplier UpSolar was able to report a happier outcome in the case of a recent installation it was involved in. Last week UpSolar took part in a ceremony to flick the switch on a 100kW rooftop installation at Hilton Manufacturing in the state of Victoria.

The installation employed a tracking system developed in partnership with ABB with the metalwork manufactured at the Hilton facility.

Some 45 people attended the Hilton Manufacturing array ceremony to see the installation and UpSolar’s Australian manager Maree Viotto said the array showcases UpSolar’s smart modules – which incorporate Tigo optimising technology – and the tracking system.

Chinese inverter manufacturer Growatt also embody the focus on the commercial rooftop market. The company’s Martin Luo said the Australian market remains one of the most important for the firm and its portfolio of 10kW, 100kW and 500kW inverters are well suited to the commercial segment.

Taiwan’s Winaico is introducing product offerings catering to commercial rooftops in Australia. Blair Pester, Asia Pacific sales director for the firm, said its modules come with two-year yield insurance for larger installations which can be extended to seven years.

"It vastly increases investor and bank confidence in the installation," said Pester.