Sentinel Solar is a solar distribution company with the goal of bringing new ideas to the industry. Founded in 2003, they have become a major leader in solar products and solutions in Canada. They have also been a long-time sponsor of Solar Canada, returning again this year for Solar Canada 2018. To learn more about this innovative Canadian company, we spoke with Adam Webb, Sentinel’s President and Founder.
What made you want to start Sentinel Solar?
I’ve been in the industry since 1994, and for many years I could see we were making the same mistakes over and over again. Not because we weren’t good at what we did, there just wasn’t enough business to drive the kind of change that was needed. I started Sentinel with the focus on not just making a better product, but to make a better customer experience, from the installer right through to the end user.
It was common, when a customer would order a solar system, a large box of parts would arrive and an assortment of manuals. Instead of this, we started delivering an engineered system: every piece they needed and, where possible, preassembled. The goal was to take a lot of the mystery out of how a system is connected and how each component interacts with the others. With all of the components preassembled, the installation time and accuracy were improved dramatically, resulting in a more reliable system for the customer. The concept of turning the box of parts into an appliance that the customer receives and mounts to the wall has dramatically changed the adoption of solar and allowed the industry to grow at record pace.
That was really the beginning of Sentinel: the drive to build a comprehensive solution, rather than just a collection of parts. From there we moved into custom racking solutions. That has really set us apart in the industry.
We are known, if someone says it can’t be done when it comes to solar racking challenges, call Sentinel and they will solve it – whether its a 2-megawatt system on a greenhouse or 30-kilowatt system 20 stories up on the front of a condo. What we endeavour to do is look at every challenge from the point of view of the installer and the customer. The engineered systems need to meet specific criteria, be robust, efficient to install, solve at least one common challenge and look as good as possible. Wherever possible, our engineered systems are provided with preassembled components and unique components designed to eliminate hardware, making the systems quicker to install and with less margin for error.
What innovations in solar technology are you most excited about?
There are two areas that I am particularly excited about. One is energy storage: We are seeing all kinds of advancements in storage technology – it used to only be for the off-grid home or the occasional person who wanted backup power. Now that has expanded into the future possibility of storage in every home and every commercial facility for the purpose of reducing costs, emergency power and, in certain markets, grid stabilization.
The idea behind having renewable energy and storage deployed throughout an entire community so that it is always ready to either accept or displace energy for the purpose of stabilizing the grid, is, in my opinion, the perfect grid ecosystem.
One of the problems we have is the transmission infrastructure required to move power from the point of generation to every consumer is continually deteriorating and often failing. We are falling behind the times when it comes to maintaining and upgrading our electrical infrastructure. We need to put more focus on producing more power where we are using it, such as through rooftop solar projects. With this approach, the strain on the distribution system is greatly reduced improving reliability, and providing transmission efficiency you cannot match with centralized generation.
When we couple distributed solar generation with the opportunity of storage, we are not only giving ourselves the ability to offset the electrical load during the day, we are also giving the opportunity to offset demands in real peak times of the day. Solar generation does not always coincide with demand, and it is where storage can help us out.
The second technology that’s gotten us really excited are bifacial solar modules (both sides of the solar cell are capable of power production). What we have found over the last year of testing, for the Canadian climate in particular, is the bifacial modules are hands-down the best investment you can make for any ground-mounted solar array. Particularly on overcast or snowy days, we see massive gains in energy production. The introduction of bifacial technology is helping our winter production in some cases up to 25%.
What opportunities would you like to see in Canada as a national solar solution provider?
What I’d really like to see is an incentive program that is not necessarily directly on the shoulders of taxpayers, a program to allow the residential customer to claim their residential solar system as a tax-free investment similar to an RRSP. If we were to do that, the industry would not be able to keep up with demand for solar in Canada.
People are investing in solar because they want energy security and they want to know that they’ll be paying less over time, or at the very least not paying more. If they can now receive a tax offset by purchasing solar, its just another way for them to save. It’s almost as if they are now doubling down on their savings and that will drive business. For the government, it would be a huge win, because every dollar that is spent putting these systems in generates jobs, sales tax, income tax and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Why should attendees come visit the Sentinel Solar booth as Solar Canada 2018?
We at Sentinel are very good at building incredible and innovative products and historically have not done a great job telling people about what we have accomplished. We’re changing that now: we have a new product that we are launching at Solar Canada 2018: The Titan SP. It’s our brand-new ground mount system that’s been in development for two years. This unique product was developed through listening to all of our installers to find out all of the issues they’ve had over the last 15 years with ground mount systems. The Titan SP addresses 90% of the challenges our installers have faced, and goes a step further by focusing on a design that complements bifacial modules rather than inhibiting their potential. We will be showcasing it at Solar Canada so all of our developers can get a preview of what this new rack really looks like and all of the benefits around it.
Want to know more? If you would like to meet the people at Sentinel Solar, you can find them at Booth 223 at Solar Canada 2018, June 20-21 in Calgary.