More than 70 installers to mount rooftop solar photovoltaic panels have been trained by Schletter, with Basil Read among the chiefly independent installers that have had their fitters trained.
“Installer training is absolutely crucial to ensuring the success of any solar project,” Bernard Suchland, managing director at Schletter South Africa, says. “Installing the solar panel structures is one of the most important steps of the full solution, even though it only typically accounts for about 20% of the total cost, because should the mountings fail then the entire system fails. That is not the case when an inverter or a panel fails, for example.”
Installers are taught the essentials and details of installing panels, right from planning and conceptualising the final system through to actually fitting it to the rooftop. In the courses they are also trained to use an online tool that facilitates the gathering of information and ensuring all necessary detail is captured.
Schletter South Africa has critical insight that aids the installers based on that information, such as the tensile strength to employ in brackets and bolts, depending on geographic location. This technology also verifies planned installations for third-party installers of its systems before they go ahead.
Information they require ranges from the geographic or GPS location of the site to the height of the building, ambient wind conditions throughout the year, proximity to the ocean, and proximity to urban areas.
“The factors they must consider will determine the final fitting solution that is necessary to secure the panels to a rooftop,” Suchland says. “Because ambient conditions play an enormous role in alleviating risk to property and life and ensuring the capital expenditure of the project is secured.”
Solar panels can act as wings when fitted so wind has an enormous impact on the solution. Low-grade steel, such as that typically found in hardware-sourced bolts and brackets, is not suitable. The mounting bolts and brackets must consist of high-grade steel typically available from Germany and other countries, but not frequently available on South African retail shelves.
Steel is manufactured to a tensile strength and hardness, called the RC rating. Low RC rated steel is not good enough to withstand the enormous forces that wind places on solar panels at height.
“The actual type of roof, be it inverted box rib (IBR), corrugated iron or tile, is one of the least important factors when fitting solar panels, although new customers often believe it is the only requirement,” Suchland says. “The standard imported brackets and bolts that we train the installers to use are derived from a lot that we have developed through decades of experience and accommodate any of the roof types we find in South Africa. In fact, almost 80% of roofs in South Africa will use one of four standard brackets.”
He adds that mounting brackets that are preassembled to a large degree at ground level also decrease the risk to installers when they are operating at altitude. The less time they spend exposed to altitude and the fewer tools they require reduces their exposure to risk of injury and liability.
“There are more solar projects being implemented every day in South Africa because the public has been exposed to the benefits of these solutions and the costs have decreased markedly in the past decade. However, customers need to be aware of the important considerations when considering such a solution, importantly the quality of the installation by a trained professional.”