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Transpower Trial Aims To Expand Industrial Solar Potential

By Felicity Wolfe on in Solar Power News In New Zealand

Transpower Trial Aims To Expand Industrial Solar Potential

Solar power system on a low load-bearing roof in Zhejiang Province China. Credit: Sunman Energy

Transpower’s trial of light-weight solar panels on a warehouse roof at its Bunnythorpe substation could open solar energy for a wider array of commercial and industrial roofs.

The national grid operator is keen to support renewable energy options, seeing it as a resilience issue as much as to support New Zealand’s target of having 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030.

“Being able to install solar without the need to reinforce a building enables organisations to more quickly, and efficiently improve their resilience and reduce their energy costs.”

Transpower says the roof of the warehouse where the modules will be installed is not engineered to take the weight of traditional solar panels. Those would weight between 18 to 24 kilogrammes per square metre.

At just 3.3 kilogrammes per square metre, the Sunman eArc panels are up to 70 per cent lighter. A Transpower spokesperson says there are many commercial and industrial buildings around the country that cannot carry the weight of traditional solar panels.

“These panels provide an opportunity for us to install solar to power some of our substations without the need to reinforce the building.”

3. The panels can be installed on curved surfaces, such as this 237 kW system on a carport facility in the United Arab Emirates. Credit: Sunman Energy
The panels can be installed on curved surfaces, such as this 237 kW system on a carport facility in the United Arab Emirates. Credit: Sunman Energy

According to Electricity Authority data, of a total solar capacity across the country of 260 MW, just 32.6 MW of solar has been installed on New Zealand’s industrial buildings, by the end of January this year. 

Transpower believes the eArc modules could be a good solution for businesses with warehouse-type structures which cannot support other solar options.

The eArc modules have been designed for use on lightweight commercial and industrial roofs. They have also been used globally for waterproof membrane roofs, vehicle-integrated photovoltaics and off-grid energy. 

After looking at the number of similar buildings around the country Transpower estimates that just 18 per cent of existing buildings can support large solar arrays without the need for reinforcement. 

“We looked at solar panel provider literature to sanity check our figures. The 18 per cent figure is an average.”

Glassless Solar Panel Technology

The national grid operator is now ready to install the 107-kilowatt Sunman eArc system after completing necessary checks at its Bunnythorpe substation in Manawatu.

“We needed to do some checks first to ensure that everything is electrically safe given we are next to a major substation.” 

The panels are manufactured in China by Sunman, which was founded by Chinese-Australian solar entrepreneur Dr. Zhengrong Shi. 

Dr. Shi, who is also a professor at the University of New South Wales and an academician in the Australian Academy of Engineering, who previously founded Suntech Power on 2000.

Sunman’s website says the innovative panels combine proven crystalline silicon solar cells with a patented composite material which provides the same durability and robustness of conventional glass modules.

As a result, the panels are 70 per cent lighter and up to 95 per cent thinner than glass panels.

Transpower notes the panels also have an efficiency of around 18 per cent, comparable to the 15 to 20 per cent efficiency of existing panels. Likewise, the panels have a lifetime of 20 years.


1. The 235 kW eArc system on the Australian National Maritime Museum, in Sydney. The system was installed in 2019. Credit: Sunman Energy

eArc Solar Module Installation

Installing the eArc modules differs from traditional glass panels in that they are glued to the roof, not mounted. The frameless design also removes the need to earth a frame.

Sunman says the panels can be glued directly to roofs by quick-bonding. This simplifies the installation process by eliminating screw penetrations or mounting hardware. They can also be installed on vertical standing seam roofs using conventional mounting hardware, with no additional training required.

Transpower says the eArc panels are more expensive at around $550 per 400-watt panel, compared with around $300 for a 350-watt normal panel. But, without the need for building strengthening or racking systems, the overall cost is comparable, the spokesperson says. 

“As they are lighter in weight the logistical issues of moving them is easier, faster and cheaper, and installation productivity is higher as fewer components are required. Combined this makes an installed system cost comparable.”

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