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transporting solar panels

Transporting Solar Panels and Components: Getting Renewable Energy Logistics Right

Nathan McGuire
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January 24, 2024
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Transporting Solar Panels and Components: Getting Renewable Energy Logistics Right
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The solar energy sector saw impressive growth of 34% in the first half of 2023 in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy, underscoring its increasing significance in the global energy mix. Just look around your neighborhood. Rooftop panels are proliferating rapidly as more consumers take advantage of the savings vs. traditional electric power.

And solar panel installation doesn’t stop at your rooftop. There are many large megawatt solar fields being installed across the U.S. every year. Domestically, a record 33 gigawatts (GW) of production capacity is expected to be added this year, up 55% compared with new capacity in 2022.

According to the SEIA, there were 3.3 million U.S. homes equipped with solar panels  in 2022, growing on average 24% a year, while a Forbes survey found that nearly 90%   were satisfied customers. These statistics serve as an encouraging indicator that homeowners are embracing renewable energy solutions.

Many state and federal incentive programs are helping make the investment more affordable. There is a residential clean energy tax credit from the Internal Revenue Service, representing 30% of the cost of systems installed between 2022 and 2032, as well as solar tax credits and other incentives across the 50 states.  Furthermore, the ongoing reduction in the cost of solar panels and their components has made them more affordable.

Influential Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is one of many prominent proponents of solar energy adoption. Musk famously tweeted (or X’d) in 2020: “The amount of solar energy received by Earth could power a civilization over 100 times larger than ours!”

Challenges in Transporting Solar Components

Transporting solar panels from manufacturer to an interim processing site, distributor or installation site can be very challenging as the panels are delicate and can be easily damaged. Solar panels and their components require more than the standard TLC in handling and transportation to avoid damage, such as microcracks that impact performance. Industry statistics tell us one in five shipments contain broken solar panels. This gets expensive quickly, based on the cost of the panels and the fact that most are shipped here from Asia.

Other solar power components include cells, wafers and polysilicon; inverters which convert DC power from sunlight into the AC current used in most homes and businesses; racking to attach the panels to a roof or ground array; a monitoring system to track system performance; and a battery to store electricity. Other components such as bladders, actuators, posts and purlins also have specific requirements for transport preparation, packaging and handling.

Because of this, and the fact that industrial-use panels are oversized and require special handling, shipping solar equipment can get expensive. Unfortunately, there are no general protocols for shipment in the still-young industry.

Logistics professionals in the solar and energy industry have skills and experience to protect solar panels and their components from damage during transit. There are many ways to manage the loading and transport, including how the panels are packaged, in which direction they are loaded, blocking and bracing, inserts and corner protectors.

Three Key Tactics for Successful Operations

To minimize risks and avoid damage when shipping solar panels and related equipment, here are three main tactics that companies need to employ:

Ensure Proper Packaging, Loading and Unloading

Depending on  dimensions, solar panels can be stacked horizontally or vertically. It’s important to use sturdier crates and custom packaging, providing maximum shock absorption. Vertical stacking is preferred, as there’s less chance of damage from bumps along the way. Use labeling and stickers that clearly indicate to workers the fragility of the panels.

It’s critical to have separators between each unit to ensure proper cushioning and protection, as well as corner guards like those used on flat-screen TVs. Once loaded onto a pallet, the panels need to have pads around the frame and be banded and wrapped for extra protection.

At the shipping destination, workers must be adequately trained and prepared for the handling requirements of solar panels and other components.

LTL vs. TL and Route Optimization

A standard 53-foot trailer can hold 26 pallets in a full truckload, each holding about 30 solar panels, for a capacity of 780 panels per load. Shipping full truckload is advantageous  as it minimizes the handling and mitigates chances of damage. .

Transporting fragile solar panels via LTL is likely not the best shipping method as pallets are taken in and out of the trailer, introducing more opportunities for mishandling and potential damage.

Choosing the Right Logistics Partner

Transporting solar panels and related components requires skilled logistics professionals. You need to select an experienced logistics partner with a proven track record of managing transportation needs in the renewable energy space.

Wicker Park Logistics brings a consultative, hands-on approach to every customer engagement, backed by the latest technology and decades of industry experience. The Wicker Park Logistics project logistics team has many years of experience managing the needs of shipments from Asia and across North America.

You can trust your solar panel and component shipments to a company known for handling hazardous and federally regulated loads, such as the lithium batteries used in solar power. Whether transporting a few panels to a home or an entire truckload cross-country to a distributor or a solar project site in a remote area, Wicker Park has you covered. With access to a  strategic carrier network throughout North America, Wicker Park provides a high level of customer service to shippers in the renewable energy industry.

Solar Panel and Energy Related Materials Transportation, Delivered

As the solar industry continues to expand, demand for damage-free , reliable transportation is growing along with it. In addition to the special handling required, Wicker Park Logistics’ technology solutions provide transparency throughout the entire shipment lifecycle. All tracking events provide visibility  through a digitally integrated TMS.

To learn more about how Wicker Park can provide a superior experience for all your solar transportation needs, speak to a freight expert today.

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