This Cleveland Startup Wants to Make Solar Panel Installation Affordable for All
How Roll-a-Rack leverages existing concepts to simplify the process of harnessing clean energy
In a perfect world, wouldn’t we all prefer to power our daily lives with solar panels? Solar energy is clean, never runs out and can even look cool on the roof of a house. Unfortunately, that dream still seems far away for many due to the prohibitive costs of solar panel installation. But at Cleveland startup Roll-a-Rack, they’re aiming to lower costs and spread the use of solar panels.
“Roll-a-Rack is a new way of building solar panel systems,” said CFO John Turner. “It uses an existing technology that has been used in making sheet metal roofing and seamless gutters. You take a roll of sheet metal and put it through one of our new machines that presses it into the desired profile. Then the builders just have to clamp the solar panels onto the rack. Racks on the market today have multiple components, they’re very time-consuming to install and the process involves significant overhead. And if one piece gets bent or damaged, your project could be set back for a couple of weeks while you order a replacement. But with the Roll-a-Rack, you just roll out a little bit more of the rack and you’re good to go.”
For Turner and co-founder Don Scipione, Roll-a-Rack’s mission is a passion project. The pair is enthusiastic about working to reduce climate change. They believe Roll-a-Rack’s success can bring solar energy to a larger percentage of the population, but that also means they find themselves in one of the most competitive industries in the world in 2021.
“The problem we’re facing is existential,” Scipione said. “We’re beyond the point of no return, so something’s got to happen and this is one possible solution. But it’s sort of a double-edged sword as well. Climate change has advanced far enough that we are deeply immersed in this. On the other hand, the solar energy production costs have dropped so significantly that it’s going to take over the production of energy. It’s a big race for companies like ours, and that’s what we’re facing.”
Working in Turner and Scipione’s favor is the fact that they’re working with proven technology. Rather than introducing an entirely new concept to investors, customers and partners, they can simply point to how effective their concepts have been in other areas. By combining known processes with a revolutionary mission, the sky’s the limit for Roll-a-Rack.
“What’s really significant about this is that the basic technology of what we’re doing isn’t some new thing that we don’t know whether it’s going to work or not,” Turner said. “Roll forming has been proven effective for quite a while, it just hasn’t been used in this context before. It has a tremendous potential to make the whole installation process a lot more efficient. We’re expecting that it’s going to cut the time it takes to build a solar array between 50 and 80 percent. Right now, about 40 percent of the overall costs of building an array go toward labor, overhead and materials. Our product allows customers to see significant savings on each job they do while also processing new contracts much more quickly.”
The young company is still in their early stages, but has already attracted a number of partnerships, from U.S. Department of Energy grant funding to Ohio businesses. Now, they’re ready to show off their product across the country, and Scipione credits the company’s Ohio foundation for opening the doors to their future.
“We pride ourselves in really having a great number of partnerships,” he said. “We’re partnering with MAGNET, with Case, with the Ohio Aerospace Institute, NASA and two local manufacturers that will be producing our materials. Now we’re searching for beta testers across the country, and we have interest from several. These are the most exciting partnerships, I think, because these are people who are in the industry and are coming to us, validating what we’re doing. Those Ohio partnerships have helped us do so much so fast. We’ve been able to go so far with the money that came from the Department of Energy, for example. That’s because we were building on a mature manufacturing process, but it’s also because of those partnerships that have helped us get here.”
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