Shifting directions in PV mounting solutions


Premium Mounting Technologies (PMT) was founded as an offshoot of an EPC – and now my understanding is that the relationship with Solartechnik Dresden is based on an element of exclusivity. What’s the history of your two companies working together?

Steffen Hesch: We were founded in December 2017 and started doing business in January 2018. The idea was to build a small company to do installations of PV systems around the world. So, we connected several companies and decided to build our systems without subcontractors. In May 2018, Peter and I decided to build up a partnership with PMT. In July, we agreed on premium partnership with PMT, preferring their products for flat and pitched roof construction projects.

Peter Grass: What I've seen over all the years are the same mistakes or the same problems; there are three things that make a project good or bad. The first is the system developer, with a focus on the substructure of course; if a module manufacturer makes something wrong, it's in China’s hands so you're on the sea with that. But of all the things you can control, the first thing is to choose the right construction; developers can make some really critical mistakes like wrong wind tunnel testing. The second big mistake is for project developers using their own software and providing all the alleged data for the project – they tell you ‘the roof is 11 meters high, and that you have zero slope, but actually you have five degrees.’ A lot of mistakes happen because of misleading data and communication issues. And the third thing is, developers working with different crews each week. You are cooperating with one EPC, but they are working with 10 different subcontractors. The subcontractor itself trains the teams from different EPCs. So every week, another mounting team on the site, using competitors’ systems Wednesday with PMT Thursday, and they never read any assembly instructions of the mounting systems. This partnership removes all these quality issues.

PMT has gone through recent changes with Thomas Kercher serving as the new CEO. Peter, now as the new CTO, what can the market expect for products and innovation?

Peter Grass:  Eighty percent of our turnover is on flat roof systems or non-penetration systems, with pitches up to 30 degrees. Roofs without penetration have been our specialized focus over the years; we became the market leader there. And now it is time for the next level – we are building a new system geared for lower wind loads or lower snow loads, and different roof tiles, but still aerodynamic. And another is carports, or energy roofing, in general, to park or store things under it. And for this segment, we are developing new inlay products without complete closed roofs for bifacial modules. This is a really fast-changing market, and then we have to make the first step in other markets as well over the next 24 months; there are a lot of segments we are not in at the moment – Agri-PV and floating PV.

Speaking of fast changes, the big manufacturing trend right now is cells and modules becoming larger format. What are the changes you are making, and how is this going to affect your business?

Steffen Hesch: For installation, the challenge is that it's more difficult to carry these modules along – you have to improve, to think about more steps on the roof, the field, the carport; wherever you build it up. But at the moment, we are not delivering modules on site. So, we are just delivering the smaller parts, and the supply chain for the modules doesn't matter for the moment.

Peter Grass: For PMT, it changes the systematic and ideas behind the systems completely. Changing multiple dimensions, there is an impact on all stages of the product and the project development. In flat roof aerodynamic systems, nothing is like before – your wind tunnel tests are no longer accountable, the geometry of your system is changed completely, your ballast calculations are completely wrong. You have to think completely new.

In the last nine months, we have seen the first releases of M6 wafer, and we can expect the M12 wafers coming. And now it's no longer 60 cell, 1.65 meters to 99 centimeters; now it's something between 1.60 to 2.40 meters. Yeah, a big range of model dimensions. We started beginning of the year here to prepare everything for these changes and are just now at the point to have something for nearly every module on the market.

With larger format modules, the drive is to bring down LCOE costs. What do you see as for the implications?

Peter Grass: For the module guys, sure. But if they see our calculations, they might be disappointed. The system module that previously needed two rails might need three to accommodate these big modules. The installation times will be longer. The cabling isn’t as comfortable. The ideas behind reducing costs are a bit backward for rooftops. One saves money, the other has to spend.

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You’re in 27 countries.  Where are you currently and which are the most crucial global markets?

Peter Grass: The main markets for us are still Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Benelux in general. Markets, such as France, the Czech Republic, and Poland, but also Eastern countries like Hungary, Romania, and so on. With distribution companies, we are in a lot more countries, of course, they are selling our products in the United Emirates and the U.S.

And how are you out withstanding competition in these large rooftop PV markets?

Peter Grass: We have always focused on quality and innovation; we listen to our customers and installers – and then apply their feedback to further optimize products. The company is based on the best of German engineering traditions, with attention to detail central to our product development. Products are extensively tested with a focus on constant improvement. PMT was amongst the first companies to receive a general building approval for an aerodynamic flat roof mounting system from the German Institute for Building Technology. This ensures customers the highest quality, reliability, and maximum proximity to the project. PMT Proof is an additional service to our clients, where we take care of the assembly and the quality check afterward together with Solartechnik Dresden.

Steffen Hesch: PMT Proof is not a product, it's a way to work. We live and love the thought and security behind the proof process because it stands for quality and security in assembly.

Peter Grass: Stage one is evaluation of all planning data because there are a lot of mistakes made here; stage two is training all of the employees of the mounting structures, and; stage three is quality checking in the field. We really go deep into the details and we make a separate wind load calculation with an external partner, the Institute for Aerodynamics. They check the terrain, Euro code data, and an exact wind load. We measure the coefficient of friction of how good the system is, check insulation built in the roof. And because all of this data is in before the project is starting, we are training so every guy, the 160 guys or so from Solartechnik Dresden. In the third stage, we are actually going out to the site flying by drone – checking all distances and details. That sets us apart as our biggest advantage in the market to our competitors – they only sell aluminum, not a complete solution.

Are you flying drones out to all of your sites through this process?

Peter Grass: Within the PMT Proof service, yes. We are doing drone flights before, during, and after.

Sounds like a pretty significant commitment. Why?

Peter Grass: To not make any technical compromises due to falling prices in the market. When the German government cut down the rate for selling back solar electricity; the systems became smaller and smaller, and cheaper and cheaper. It makes sense to make PV cheaper to get grid parity. But it should not be at the cost of quality and safety. Our idea is to keep the quality and security level high, but to make the system smarter, faster to install, and safer.

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