Wind tunnel testing reveals challenges, opportunities for rooftop solar arrays

Source: SunLink Corporation

SunLink Corporation and its R&D partners at the University of Western Ontario’s Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory (BLWTL) and structural engineering firm Rutherford and Chekene (R&C) have released the first in what will be a series of publications focused on designing for wind loads on solar arrays: Rooftop Solar Arrays and Wind Loading: A Primer on Using Wind Tunnel Testing as a Basis for Code Compliant Design per ASCE 7. 

The Rooftop Solar Arrays and Wind Loading primer is intended to assist building officials, structural engineers and other industry professionals tasked with reviewing proposed PV array systems with issues related to wind loading and on the appropriate use of wind tunnel testing as a basis for design. It also addresses the applicability of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), which is sometimes proposed as an alternative to testing. 

“Over the last seven years, SunLink has made substantial investments in what we believe to be the most extensive R&D program in the industry aimed at understanding the effects of wind on rooftop solar arrays,” says SunLink CEO, Christopher Tilley. “We feel the results of this program are important to share with the industry as together we work to design PV systems that are both more cost effective and safe.” 

Given the complexity of the aerodynamics and structural analysis involved in this topic, SunLink sought guidance from Dr. Greg Kopp, director of the BLWTL, and Dr. Joe Maffei, principal of R&C, both foremost experts in the field. 

“It has been refreshing to work with a company that is truly interested in understanding the science of wind loads rather than just seeking specific outcomes. SunLink’s mindset enabled us to design and execute a multi-year, comprehensive wind tunnel test program, which has provided us with unparalleled insight into the aerodynamics and loading on rooftop solar arrays,” explains Dr. Kopp. “The extent of the test data set generated as part of this program likely exceeds that used as the basis for much of the wind design values in the current building code. We look forward to publishing the results of this research over the next few years.” 

“SunLink approached R&C to collaborate with its internal R&D team and Dr. Kopp to develop a procedure for structural design of rooftop solar arrays that meets the requirements and intent of the building code,” recalls Dr. Maffei. “Because of the complexities of structural behavior that racking systems exhibit and the lack of directly applicable guidance in the building code, the task has been both challenging and interesting. We are excited to have the opportunity to share the results of our work with the industry through future publications.” 

Those interested in receiving future publications in the series or learning about related webinars and workshops can register at

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