Rethinking Solar Panel Shipping – PVpallet

PVpallet

Touted as a sustainable solar panel shipping solution, PVpallet is about to hit prime time.

Brainchild of Luke Phelps, the owner of a U.S solar design and installation company, PVpallet seeks to address the amount of waste, lost time, and expense associated with the single-use wood pallets.

The ubiquitous wooden pallet has a number of advantages, including low initial cost. But among its disadvantages is the waste created. The USA’s EPA estimated wood pallet recycling at 3.1 million tons in 2018 for a 17.1 percent recycling rate. By “recycling”, it was referring to applications such as chipping for uses such as mulch or bedding material, but excluding wood combusted as fuel. It’s assumed pallets treated with methyl bromide aren’t used for such purposes1.

“Despite the low initial cost of traditional wood pallets, the lifecycle costs and inefficiencies of this shipping method are monumental,” states PVpallet.

Mr Phelps said he saw shipments arriving on site with broken modules, module stacks falling over once banding was removed, and then there was the expense of dealing with the waste after every job.

So, he set about designing a better system with the help of some talent brought on board.

The company’s design features high-density plastic sidewalls (HDPE), cross-braces to protect solar panels in transit, and sliding locks and tabs that can also support partial loads.

The exterior walls are adjustable to suit different module sizes and collapse for easy storage and return shipping. A foldable cover (assumed also plastic) protects the face of the first and back of the last module on the pallet; although that wouldn’t be much of a match for a forklift blade (but not much would be). Loaded units can be stacked up to 4-high, better utilising warehouse space.

An animation of how the PVpallet system works can be viewed here.

While the pallets can be reused multiple times, when their service life is over they can be recycled into more pallets.

PVpallet Readying For Production

The design of PVpallet has changed multiple times to get to this point. Last month the company announced the fabrication of injection molds had commenced, and this phase is expected to be completed in August. With that done, the company says PVpallet will be ready for production in September.

According to Mr. Phelps, the company is getting interest from “about every single major player in the solar industry at this point”.

As for the cost of the solution, the weight of PVpallet and other specifications – those details weren’t publicly accessible at the time of writing. The weight would be an interesting detail as one of the other disadvantages of wood pallets is their weight, which can add substantially to freight costs.

Wood isn’t the only material used in pallets and plastic ones are already very common. Plastic export pallets, often made from recycled materials, weigh in at around 7kg – 15kg, but of course don’t offer the same sort of protection and flexibility that PVpallet does.

Footnotes

  1. Wooden pallets need to be heat or chemically-treated to comply with international import laws. The use of chemicals is becoming less common as aside from issues relating to toxicity, methyl bromide is an ozone depleting gas. Pallets fumigated with methyl bromide should have a stamp with the letters “MB” on them.
About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. George Kaplan says

    How’s this going to work with the push for the UN to ban plastic, especially the additive UV-328 which is used to maintain structural and colour integrity?

    Seems like there’s a lot of changes being pushed for the environment but tomorrow’s solution is yesterday’s problem. Plastic bags were embraced because paper bags required trees to be cut which is an environmental problem, now plastic is bad and we’re told to use other options e.g. polypropylene bags with silver foil insulation or somesuch.

    Here we have wooden products being replaced by plastic alternatives and yet plastic is bad, except when it’s not or something. It’s very confusing!!!

    Don’t get me wrong, the pallets look smart, it’s just they seem to be an example of the conflicting information we’re given.

  2. Geoff Miell says

    George Kaplan,
    What “UN to ban plastic”, George?

    The United Nations is **CONSIDERING** a ban on a compound called UV-328, widely used in plastic packaging.
    https://eminetra.co.uk/the-united-nations-is-considering-a-groundbreaking-global-ban-on-major-toxic-chemicals-to-change-the-flow-of-pollution/554020/

    And where does it say in the promotional material for the PVpallet system that “the additive UV-328” is involved, George?

    You state:
    “Don’t get me wrong, the pallets look smart, it’s just they seem to be an example of the conflicting information we’re given.”

    I think you are attempting (again) to engage in misinformation and distraction here, like elsewhere: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/solar-wind-coal-land/#comment-1102855

    • George Kaplan says

      Push for = considering. Not sure where the confusion lies.

      I asked a question. I don’t know what the pallets are comprised of. Odds are nobody here will have an answer. The problem is we don’t know how particular decisions will domino in their impact. If UV-328 is banned and is critical to the manufacture of these pallets …

      Again? RoFL. I definitely hold to different views to you, however that doesn’t make them misinformation or distraction. Perhaps the issue is that I sometimes appear to fail to respond to your comments? My posts don’t always make it past the SQ moderator(s) thereby giving the illusion I can’t or won’t defend my position. As for your 30th June post, I hadn’t seen that ’til now hence no response.

      • Geoff Miell says

        George Kaplan,
        You state: “Push for = considering. Not sure where the confusion lies.”

        IMO, you are now deflecting from the key issue you were claiming. You stated in your earlier comment: “push for the UN to ban plastic…”

        There is no evidentiary basis I see for that statement – the UN is CONSIDERING a ban on a compound called UV-328. IMO, that’s not what you were claiming.

        And where is UV-328 used?

        “UV-328 is a substituted phenolic benzotriazole (BZT) used as a UV absorber in many products. BZTs absorb the full spectrum of UV light and are mostly used in transparent plastics, coatings, and personal care products (PCPs). UV-328 in particular can be used in many types of plastic polymer matrices, typically in concentrations between 0.1 and 0.5% of mass. UV-328 is used as a printing ink additive in food contact materials, too. Because it is not bound to the polymer, UV-328 can migrate from within the polymer matrix and eventually diffuse out of the matrix and enter the environment.”
        http://chm.pops.int/Implementation/PublicAwareness/PressReleases/POPRC16PressReleaseUV328elimination/tabid/8747/Default.aspx

        I don’t see a connection between UV-328 and the the PVpallet system.

        IMO, you haven’t shown where the link is between UV-328 and the PVpallet system, but it seems to me you are attempting to suggest there is one, without evidence. IMO, you are engaging in misinformation and distraction.

        You also state: “I don’t know what the pallets are comprised of. Odds are nobody here will have an answer.”

        Michael Bloch’s post above includes the statement: “The company’s design features high-density plastic sidewalls (HDPE)…” HDPE = high density polyethylene.

        It’s clear to me from a plethora of comments I see here at this blog by you, comprehending key details/evidence/data isn’t apparently your ‘thing’, thus it’s apparent to me you make more than a few unsubstantiated/false statements. Perhaps you need to re-read and comprehend Ronald’s comment at: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/kurri-hunter-power-project-mb2042/#comment-1097843

        • George Kaplan says

          Oh I must be more tired than I realise. Here’s a piece on the subject that I recently read: https://legalinsurrection.com/2021/06/u-n-considers-global-ban-on-chemical-essential-to-manufacture-plastics/

          Scientists state a ban on UV-328 would be the ‘beginning of the end’ as it’s an essential ingredient in consumer plastic products.

          So while you can argue I was technically incorrect – the ban is focused on UV-328, the outcome may be plastics in its entirety, though what would, or could, replace plastics is unclear.

          HDPE may mean something to you, it does not to me. Since reading about the push to ban UV-238/plastic it seems entirely reasonable to consider the implications for the PVpallet system.

          Comprehending evidence\data isn’t my thing? That’s a … curious claim. I fully admit I do miss things these days – have to pay extra attention and review things to minimise errors, but somehow I still manage to note errors elsewhere. If I’m impaired yet still noting such things, what’s that say about those who leave errors in published work? 🙂 (And no I’m not referring to published scientific papers – much lighter literature as a rule.)

          Your having the link to Ronald’s comment is likewise curious. It’s too long ago to recall what I posted in reply to your response there. Suffice to say I dispute\disagree\reject many of your claims\evidence, and you likewise dispute\disagree\reject mine. I suspect Ronald and likely the SQ team in its entirety tend to fall more on your side of the spectrum than mine. The question is, is our difference of perspectives a matter of lack of comprehension or simply due to radically differing viewpoints? I for one suspect the latter plays a significant role.

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