Solar Veterans Focused on Easier Installations
The very first time we saw a typical rooftop solar mounting system we thought; “Why does it have to be that complicated?” The answer of course is that it doesn’t. Like most designs, today’s mounting hardware evolved by adding on to the best practices of the previous generation.
With design, materials and manufacturing backgrounds in aerospace, marine systems, medical devices and industrial systems, we have a broad and deep engineering toolkit and, because of the markets we came from, a design philosophy that focuses equally on hardware usability, performance and cost.
Tessolar was founded to commercialize a technology originally developed by Co-Founders Jaco Pretorius and Marco Ferrara in the early 2010’s. These “two smart guys from MIT” spent a lot of time talking with top management of the major solar module manufacturers, understanding their problems and developing solutions to address them. One of those solutions was directed toward improving the long term reliability and performance of solar modules. Without getting into the physics of all of the cool MIT stuff, a part of the solution involved replacing the module’s aluminum frame with a frame made of plastic composite material. Jaco and Marco were joined by Les Fritzemeier to found Tessolar to commercialize that technology in 2014.
Tessolar obtained grants to develop and commercialize the module technology from The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and in 2016, from the U.S. Department of Energy. Because the new module used a composite frame, the company decided to include a simple, snap together mount with the early prototypes. In the course of gathering industry feedback on the proposed new product, the company visited solar installers across the U.S. An odd thing happened – almost unanimously, the installers were dismissive of the benefits of the module technology, but REALLY liked the snap-in mounting concepts.
Realizing that the market was sending a strong signal, Tessolar pivoted from the module to the mounting hardware as our primary product in 2017. Fortunately, MassCEC and the DOE were willing to go along with us in that new direction.
Let’s first acknowledge that designing with composites requires an expanded set of skills compared to metal parts design. Composite materials are also not appropriate for all products or applications. For example, composites can be a best choice when combining multiple parts into one assembly , but not at all effective in replacing a simple rolled, sheet steel beam. Rooftop mounting hardware, with multiple parts including nuts, bolts, clamps, brackets, … looked like a good fit for a molded composite solution. One of the keys to a good design is to start with a good understanding of the features that are important to the user. So, we went back to that group of installers that got us into this in the first place, asking the simple question – “What’s important to you?” The overwhelming number one response was:
Make installation faster.
So we did.
There are three fundamental design principles that we follow when designing systems for ease of use:
1. Minimize the number of parts.
2. Minimize the number of operations.
3. Use the simplest, minimum number of tools.
After many conceptual iterations, a lot of 3D printing and other prototyping, we ended up with the Tesserack roof mounts. The mounts are factory assembled and are as “universal” as we can make them. Portrait or landscape, end or center, 60 or 72 cell, as long as the module has an aluminum frame, the mount is the same and no assembly is required. Layout is simple – if you can follow a two page, pictorial instruction sheet, you can install with Tesserack. One tool – a drill driver – is all you need. Everything else snaps together.
And yes, we have now extended our design philosophy to ground mount systems as well.
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