Re-deployable rooftop solar start-up targets huge "locked-out" commercial market

An Australian solar start-up looking to corner a potentially massive market in re-deployable commercial solar has won backing from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

The Melbourne head-quartered Solpod – named for its pre-fabricated rooftop solar systems – has developed a way to fix solar panels to industrial roofing using a relocatable aluminium racking and mounting system, offering the ability to remove the panels to be deployed elsewhere, at any time.

The company, in partnership with business electricity retailer ERM Power, is currently in the process of installing 2.5MW worth of its portable PV technology at 25 commercial sites across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

ARENA has committed $975,000 towards that $5 million pilot project, which will trial using the solar pods at shopping centres, commercial and government buildings.

Solpod CEO James Larratt – whose solar industry pedigree includes a stint at SunEdison, during which time he helped to establish the commercial PV business at Australia-based Energy Matters – says the solar pods aim to plug a major gap in the C&I market.

The technology gels particularly well with one of Larratt’s main areas of expertise and interest in large-scale solar: behind-the-meter commercial solar PPA and lease arrangements.

“Solar is cheaper than the grid, but it’s not cheaper if you have to scrap it after five years, or 10 years,” Larratt said.

“A lot of industrial roofs are rented, so it’s very hard for the tenants to make a long-term commitment to solar.

“SolPod is a prefabricated rooftop solar solution. So we assemble it in a warehouse under strict quality control, bring it on a truck, crane it on the roof, and we’ve installed the panels in a day of work on-site.”

One of the first sites a SolPod is being installed is at the Highpoint Shopping Centre, a suburban retail outlet in Melbourne’s west owned by real estate developer GPT.

According to centre manager, Ryan Ling, the inability to relocate traditional solar arrays once installed had been a major barrier to solar investment for GPT at Highpoint.

“The low cost and the ability for the SolPod installation to be moved if we need access to the roof for a major development has been a major decisive factor in GPT choosing to be a part of this pilot program,” Ling said.

GPT has committed to trial a total of 10 pods on its shopping centres, three of which have already been witched on, including at Highpoint, Parkmore Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s south-east, and the Norton Plaza Shopping Centre in Leichardt, NSW.

Property NSW, which manages the state government’s property portfolio, will also roll-out 10 Solpod installations across various locations in both metropolitan and regional NSW over the course of the year.

In a separate release on Friday, ERM Power said is expected 500kW installations for logistics and industrial sheds to become the most popular commercial set-up in the future.

ERM also believes that Solpod could double the scale of 100kW-5MW commercial solar installations in Australia from 113MW in 2018 to closer to 250MW by 2021.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve done with Solpod, cos it’s the first relocatable rooftop solar system, (installed) really cost effectively,” said ERM Power’s head of new markets, David Hersham.

“These industrial roofs are 50 per cent of rooftops in Australia that are just currently untapped, so this will really open up that market.

“We think Solpod will revolutionise solar for the property industry.”

For ARENA, the appeal of Solpod’s technology also lies in its potential to open up new markets for rooftop solar installation.

“Solpod’s new way of installing solar will pave the way for businesses who were previously locked out of rooftop solar to take up renewable energy solutions and options under shorter term power purchase agreements.

“This Australian start up will help to accelerate solar PV innovation and allows for renewable energy alternatives in niche markets, providing a cost-competitive alternative to standard methods of fixed mounting for delivering rooftop grid connected solar PV,” Mr Miller said.

Larratt said the funding from ARENA would help Solpod to fast-track its commercialisation and extend its technology to more businesses around Australia, sooner.

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