Custom Components in the Solar Energy Industry

Solar panels reflecting blue sunny sky

Although essential for converting solar energy into electrical energy, silicon cells are just one of several critical elements in typical modern solar panels.

For solar panels to be installed on-site, they must be mounted on a system of robust structural supports. These structural support systems consist of various metal components, including framing elements, custom metal clips, clamps, bolts, and fasteners — most of which are easily created using metal stamping processes.

Solar panel framing support systems are primarily designed to support the weight of the solar panel. However, since these panels are installed outdoors, supporting elements need to be capable of withstanding environmental factors such as extreme wind load as well as loads from seismic events.

Key Solar Mounting System Components

Racking and mounting are the general industry terms used to describe the components that secure the solar panel to either the ground or the roof. Typical racking and mounting assemblies are comprised of four primary elements: the flashing, mounting brackets, rails, and panel clamps.

  • Flashing — Solar panel flashing is a metal sheet, usually 8 to 12 in. square, used to direct water runoff on a pitched roof away from the penetrations made by the panel’s mounting hardware. A metal block, no larger than the size of a padlock, is integrated into the flashing and provides an elevated surface for lag bolts to be driven into the roof’s rafters. The flashing is usually slid under at least one course of shingles and nailed to the roof as needed.
  • Mounting brackets — Mounting brackets, also known as L-clamps or L-feet, are aluminum angle brackets that are attached to the flashing. Mounting brackets provide support for the rails and create a load transfer path to the roofing structure.
  • Rails — The rails of the mounting system are horizontal aluminum framing elements that support the perimeter of the solar panels. Rails are typically attached to the mounting brackets using stainless steel fasteners and are designed to be slightly elevated from the roof surface to allow for sufficient airflow beneath the panels.
  • Panel clamps — There are two types of panel clamps: end clamps and mid clamps. End clamps are responsible for fastening and grounding the panels to the rails. End clamps, on the other hand, are used to secure the connection between two individual panels. Panel clamps usually consist of a T-shaped threaded bolt and a metal cap. A metal tab is also included to clamp down the edges of the solar panels.

The Effect of Solar Power Growth on Metal Demand

The rise of alternative forms of energy, including solar energy, has caused an unprecedented spike in demand for a range of different metals. Studies have shown that this uptick resulted in an average price increase of 750% in 2011. Photovoltaic panels, batteries, and mounting systems contain several metallic elements, including aluminum, copper, cadmium, silica, silver, and titanium.

The availability of precious metals, such as silver, has also been affected by the increased production of solar panels. It is estimated that the average solar panel contains approximately 15 to 20 grams of silver. At current growth rates, some experts believe that silver demands in the solar industry have the potential to exceed the volumes once used in the photographic film industry.

The danger of shortages, embargoes, and strains on mining resources have shifted attention to alternative solutions, such as the reusing and recycling of metals used in the solar power industry. This can help advance developments in the solar energy field while reducing the negative impacts of depleting resources.

Although metals are the primary element in solar panel construction, other nonmetallic materials are equally essential. These include:

  • Foam and sponges
  • Silicone
  • Electrical and thermal insulation materials
  • Adhesives and tapes

Solar Energy Materials

The materials used in the solar energy industry extend far beyond those used in photovoltaic cells. Other essential elements, such as the supporting components, contain custom parts of various sizes and materials. These parts make it possible for solar panels to operate at multiple sites, and care should be taken in the selection process to ensure optimal functioning of the end product.

 

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Image Credit: Smit/Shutterstock.com

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