Most exciting innovations in solar energy relate to improved solar panel efficiencies or software solutions to improve the business case of adopting solar, but Esdec shows that saving time and money on installation of solar systems can provide a huge boon to the solar industry.
Installation of rooftop solar panels can require one to three days, with labor times averaging 75 man-hours and associated labor costs eating up about 10% of total system costs. While improving the rate at which solar photovoltaic (PV) panels can convert sunlight into usable energy will continue to make such installations more worthwhile, installation costs don’t typically receive the same degree of attention despite their significant contribution to upfront capital costs. As such, any innovation that can minimize installation costs will likewise decrease the payback period before residential and commercial solar systems become profitable and make solar energy accessible to more people. Such efforts encompass the goals that Esdec hopes to achieve by finally coming over to the United States.
Esdec, a European leader in solar rooftop mounting, has been operational for 14 years, having approached 2 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity as the leading market share holder in several countries. Featured as their initial U.S. product offering, the FlatFix system uses “self-levelling baseplates” and utilizes “innovative design [to] enable rapid assembly, allowing commercial projects to significantly reduce installation times compared with other systems on the market.” Esdec made a splash with this product at Solar Power International (SPI) 2018, the site of their U.S. coming out party.
The CEO of Esdec’s U.S. operations, Bart Leusink, graciously agreed to answer some questions I had about Esdec’s history, what finally brings them to the U.S. market, and how their products differ from other mounting and installation systems already commercially available:
Esdec’s Debut at Solar Power International
Matt Chester: Thanks so much for agreeing to speak with me today. To start at the beginning, what’s the origin story behind Esdec as a company?
Bart Leusink: Esdec was started by a group of rooftop solar installers who became increasingly dissatisfied with solar mounting and racking systems and the level of customer service– or, more accurately, the lack of consistent service– available at the time in the Dutch residential market.
Chester: You used Solar Power International (SPI) 2018 as your platform to officially launch into the U.S. market. What was the reception at the conference? How excited was your team to have such a large stage on which to debut?
Leusink: Frankly, the show exceeded our expectation. We had high hopes going into SPI, as we believe we’re bringing an innovative commercial and residential mounting system to the United States, offering installers a simpler, quicker-to-install solution compared with what is currently available. However, as with any debut, we were also a bit nervous as to how the U.S. solar community would respond. Across the three days, we received more leads and higher traffic at the booth than we anticipated. Our commercial rooftop system, FlatFix, generated fantastic feedback from installers, distributors, and developers who were very enthusiastic about its clickable assembly, aesthetics, and durability. Among the most memorable quotes were “The product speaks for itself” and “I’ve never seen anything like this.” People also loved the videos we created that helped tell our story, as well. SPI was a great way to start our U.S. journey and we can’t wait to build on it in the coming months.
Chester: Not only that, but you were selected as the official PV mounting system for the SPI Smart Energy Microgrid outside the convention center. How did you land that? What type of opportunities did that provide?
Leusink: Yes, that was an excellent opportunity for us. We were approached by the organizers of SPI who knew our FlatFix product was very quick and easy to install. It ended up being an ideal way for us to demonstrate what our product can do in a real-life use case. My colleague and I, who are not installers, were able to install the 27-panel system adjacent to the convention center in just over an hour, which shows how quick and easy it is to install. The microgrid powered over 90 booths through SPI. A two-panel FlatFix system was also featured on the Smart Energy Microgrid Marketplace inside the convention center, and I presented our products at the official MarketPlace, bringing further visibility to FlatFix and Esdec.
Esdec Changing the U.S. Market
Chester: Esdec has long been a force on the European market, but you are only now entering the United States. What felt right about entering the market at this moment?
Leusink: It’s true that Esdec has established itself as a leader in PV roof mounting systems in Europe. Since 2004, we’ve delivered nearly 2 GW of systems and worked with some of the biggest global corporate brands to deliver commercial solar systems in Europe. We’ve always known there was plenty of room in the U.S. solar market for an agile, customer-centric innovator like Esdec to help installers and EPCs (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) accelerate their installation velocity and improve their bottom line with a reliable, proven world-class product. And our experience at SPI affirms this belief. People at the convention had great feedback on our system, and the success of the product over 14 years in the industry provided U.S. visitors with evidence that we are a reliable partner.
Chester: Are there unique aspects to installations in the United States compared with in Europe that require an adjustment in how your products are made or marketed?
Leusink: The key difference between the U.S. and European solar markets is the various regulations and code compliance requirements for mounting solar panels, which are more stringent in the United States than in Europe. We incorporated these requirements into our specially designed U.S. systems. We have UL1703 Class A fire rating on all products and are also UL2703 listed for bonding, grounding, and loading. This gives us added credibility and helps us stand out as a new company in the U.S. market.
Chester: Usually when new and exciting solar innovations are reported, they’re related to the efficiency of panels or the price of solar cells. What is it you think Esdec mounting solutions will bring that can excite people?
Leusink: Esdec is not an ordinary mounting solutions company. We’re driven by innovation. Unlike other PV mounting manufacturers, Esdec combines large-scale R&D, patented advanced technology, and customer input into rapid product development. We 3D print most of our prototypes and use lightweight space-grade plastics and self-repairing metals on our components. I mentioned earlier that Esdec was founded by installers who were unsatisfied with the systems and customer service within the industry. Since then, we have worked closely with installers to identify improvements for our systems and their key points for residential and commercial installations. It is this collaboration that inspires our next generation of mounting system innovations. Last month, we opened our innovation center at our Netherlands headquarters in Deventer, taking our installer collaboration to the next level, with the goal of delivering the most reliable, highest quality mounting systems on the market.
Chester: Within the mounting solutions arena, what do your products bring to customers that they haven’t seen before? What’s the differentiator?
Leusink: Esdec brings many key differentiators to the U.S. market. FlatFix features self-leveling baseplates unlike anything available to U.S. installers. Our one-tool design is completely unique, with integrated snap-on attachments that make installation quick and simple. FlatFix also provides a unique cable management approach that installers at SPI loved. Add to that our flexible setup: single or dual; south; east-west; or north-south; and a 20-year warranty. Together it’s a complete package that U.S. installers have never seen before. We are also one of the few companies that offer both commercial and residential, flat and pitched roof solutions. This complete suite of products is another differentiator.
Chester: Among the advantages that Esdec touts are the speed and ease of installation. Can you quantify how much time and, more importantly, money can be saved on a typical installation by using your systems?
Leusink: FlatFix has been shown to significantly reduce installation time on rooftops across Europe, in some cases up to 40%. On one recent project in the Netherlands, 400 panels were installed using our system with just four people in only four hours. We will soon be launching our calculator on our U.S. website that allows installers and developers to see just how much time and cost our mounting system can save them, based on the exact specs of their project.
Chester: Are there any misconceptions about your products or solar mounting in general that you’re eager to clear up? Anything people don’t know but they should?
Leusink: As we’re new to the market, and the majority of U.S. installers haven’t come across Esdec before, there aren’t any existing misconceptions about the company in the United States. One misconception we quickly quashed for any visitor to our booth at SPI, though, is that we are like every other mounting system supplier in the United States.
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates the Chester Energy and Policy blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.