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Company’s  panel mounting technology address $6 billion market

[caption id="attachment_30546" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Installers snap panels into a rooftop system using Zep Solar’s rackless technology."][/caption]

SAN RAFAEL -- Zep Solar is on the move in a big way, with the PV installation system maker just signing a licensing deal with one of the largest solar photovoltaic manufacturers in the world.

Trina Solar in Changqhou, China, announced the agreement last week, giving Zep its second global licensee and a “significant” bump in revenues, according to Zep president Mike Miskovsky.

Another of the top 10 solar manufacturers, Canadian Solar, already licenses the Zep Groove frame design, as do ET Solar, Upsolar, Ecokinetics and Centrosolar.

In just two short years since the company was founded, it has partnered with 10 major distributors.

Solar Depot and DC Power, both owned by Japanese giant Itochu, distribute the company’s products, along with GroSolar, Ontility and Westco.

“Our distributors together address the majority of the North American market for solar systems and components,” said Mr. Miskovsky.

The global market for PV panel mounting systems is $6 billion, or roughly 10 percent of the overall solar market, he said.

Jack West, Zep co-founder and CTO, invented the system, which is elegant in its simplicity, lowers costs and represents a major advance in speed and safety of installation, said Mr. Miscovsky.

PV panels are traditionally mounted on racks, cumbersome and dangerous to install and needing grounding hardware for each metal rail.

According to Daniel Flanigan, co-founder and vice president of marketing, the Zep architecture features a groove in the frame that allows each panel to interlock with the next, so that the modules become the structure.

Zep also makes the hardware components, including a special tool to install and uninstall the modules.

“Not only would a thief need the special tool, but also the training to use it,” said Mr. Flanigan.

[caption id="attachment_30547" align="alignleft" width="288" caption="A special grooved design enables solar panels to interlock."][/caption]

Zep’s Zep System II was designed for flush-mount applications including residential rooftops and zero-degree tilt commercial rooftop system. Last fall, the company released Zep System III, primarily targeted for commercial rooftop tilted applications.

The products, manufactured in the northern Midwest and assembled in San Rafael, are protected by U.S. patents and multiple patents pending in Europe, said Mr. Miscovsky.

During the third quarter of this year, Zep will enter the European market alongside Trina Solar, Canadian Solar and other licensees. Trina also plans to roll out the products in Australia.

“We’re excited to … bring our global customers new products which will allow them to realize considerable design, labor and logistics cost savings,” said Ben Hill, global head of sales and marketing for Trina.

Privately-owned Zep doesn’t disclose revenues or financial details of licensing agreements, although Mr. Miskovsky called the Trina partnership an important advance.

“We’re relatively small and new on the market and so to count seven licensees including two major global manufacturers and nearly all the Northern California distributors as partners is an accomplishment,” he said.

Zep has about 30 employees now and will have about 40 in San Rafael by the end of the year, with additional staff to support its partners abroad.

“I could speculate we’ll have 70 by the end of 2012, but it’d be just that: speculation,” he said.

In 2010, Zep closed a Series A funding round led by Aquillian Investments in San Francisco. According to Mr. Flanigan the company is not currently in search of more funding.

Under Mr. West the company has new products in the pipeline and systems designed for compatibility with advanced solar components, such as the Enphase Energy’s microinverter.

“We’re very aware of Enphase. We already have a special groove to accommodate microinverters,” said Mr. Miskovsky.

Enphase is based in Petaluma.

“We hope wide adaptation of our systems will establish a standard within the industry that will make it easier for others to advance solar technology in a lot of ways,” he said.

For more information visit www.zepsolar.com.

CORRECTION, March 7, 2011: Titan Energy Systems was mistakenly provided as licensee.