PowerRack is PowerField’s portable, ballasted racking system used in residential, commercial, industrial and now utility solar applications.
An idea that started with PowerField Energy founders David Flory and Paul Burdick working in a garage, it is now a growing company that expands production, financing and the project process. Both Flory and Burdick came from solar energy backgrounds and set out to find a simple, affordable off-the-shelf solution. This tinkering led to the development of the PowerRack, an injection-molded high-density polyethylene container that can be filled on site and used to install almost any size solar panel without tools.
pv-lehti USA spoke with Drew Bond, Co-Founder and CEO, Patrick Fleming, COO and Corbin Abshier, Director of Business Development about the history of PowerRack. One of the first PowerRack installations was at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo., where they set up a two-year test model. To date, the company has installed more than 4 MW of solar-powered PowerRacks in residential and commercial spaces, as well as in portable installations such as this year’s Coachella music festival.
In seven years, the Virginia-based company has scaled production multiple times, raised $1.3 million in funding and is now raising a $5 million Series A to scale sales, manufacturing and product development for global distribution.
In 2022, the company signed its first utility-scale contract for an installation in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania, where developer Endless Energy had faced challenges related to site conditions and environmental issues, and developers could not finish the project. The developer had already sunk a lot of money into the project, so they needed a solution that would get the project up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Once the contract was signed, it was delayed by a year due to permit issues, but once approved, the PowerRacks were installed and the modules installed within four weeks. The project is at a ShopRite store, where 8,800 PowerRacks accommodate 4,400 Hanwha Qcells 480W solar modules in a 2.1 MW system, providing more than 85% of the store’s energy needs.
According to Fleming, there were groundwater issues at the site and test well equipment at the site that needed to be avoided, so penetrating with a traditional shelf system didn’t work. The developer had already sunk a lot of money into the project, so they needed an affordable solution. PowerRacks met their needs, and even though the project was ten times larger than anything PowerField had done before, they said they only needed one field worker on site to complete the job.
The racks are brought to the site in empty 15-kilogram plastic containers, which are filled with dry loose aggregate, such as gravel or crushed stone. The solar modules slide easily into the rack and are held in place by clips. The clips are attached by hand, no tools are needed. When it’s time to decommission the solar power system, the modules are removed, the racks are emptied and they can be removed from the job site and recycled.
PowerRacks were also used to build a temporary solar array that illuminated the Coachella music festival in April in Indio, California. Overdrive Energy Solutions chose the PowerRack after seeing them at a trade show and thinking their portability suited their needs. Overdrive founder and CEO Neel Vasavada said a crew of four installed 15 kW of solar power spread across ten locations.
“We had never used the product before. We were less than 10 minutes away – less time than it takes to fuel a petrol generator,” he said.
When the festival was over and it was time to dismantle the temporary solar installation, Vasavada explained that “dismantling” doesn’t apply to the other products here.
“We used the PowerRack specifically because the racks themselves don’t need to be dismantled, except to extract the plastic locking parts after the panels are lifted off,” he said.
Because PowerRacks are portable and located above ground, installers have few options when it comes to handling the wiring. Fleming noted that the rack has a channel where the cables rest along the rack’s sidewalls and up under the modules, just like in any system. Wiring can be run above ground with cable hangers or messenger cables, or the site can be dug if it works better for installation.
To date, PowerField has sold its racks in 38 states, with customers ranging from utilities to DIY homeowners. The company recently expanded its production capacity to meet growing demand, and PowerField is developing future versions of the PowerRack to accommodate increasingly larger modules, different pitch angles and other unique customer needs.