New Automated Solar Energy System Receives $1 Million Grant

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New system reduces racking and installation costs of current systems by 33 percent.

Acme Express Inc., a Cleveland-based, technology development company, has been awarded a $1-million Small Business Innovation Research grant funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. The grant will enable Acme to research and develop Roll-A-Rack, a new patent-pending solar-panel racking system that reduces racking and installation costs of traditional systems by 33 percent.

Similar to rain gutters, which are formed and cut on demand, roll-form machines will produce custom solar racking on site and on demand. The single-component Roll-A-Rack is significantly simpler than today’s multicomponent racking systems, which require pre-ordering, shipping, inventory and assembly.

Acme Express will use the grant to test and refine Roll-A-Rack. Additional research includes efficiency refinements, high-wind pressure testing and proof of an anticipated 25-year service life.

“This will change the way solar panels are installed throughout the industry, making solar energy far more accessible and affordable,” said Don Scipione, president of Acme Express. “Furthermore, this project harnesses a wide range of community resources and Cleveland’s rich engineering and manufacturing expertise.”

NASA’s Glenn Research Center is advising on wind uplift forces. Ohio Aerospace Institute is supporting product commercialization. BT Solar, a local solar installation company, will provide technical assistance and end-user feedback. MAGNET, a nonprofit manufacturing consultancy, is validating the mechanical design and advising on strategic business development. SDLE Research Center at Case Western Reserve University will perform accelerated weather testing. The New Tech Machinery division of Mazzella Companies will build the roll-forming machines, and Sheffield Metals International, also a division of Mazzella, will provide raw materials.

The technology is being tested in Cleveland’s MidTown neighborhood, with support from real estate developers J&M Real Estate Advisors, Hemingway Development and Cumberland Development. Additional testing will be performed at Ohio Aerospace Institute, Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center in Warren, Ohio, and the City of Cleveland Crown Water Plant. The Greater Cleveland Partnership is helping to identify other test sites throughout the country.

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