Solar Builder 2018 Projects of the Year: Five projects win Editor’s Choice Awards

Solar Builder Editors Choice

Nominees for the Solar Builder Projects of the Year are submitted throughout the year by our readers, with the best submissions put up for an open online vote. The top three vote getters are named the Solar Builder Projects of the Year — Gold, Silver and Bronze. The remaining nominees are then eligible to be recognized as Solar Builder Editor’s Choice selection. The following five projects were the ones that stood out the most from the field.

Best Mission

Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical School | Rochester, Mass. | 10 kW

Best Mission

All solar projects attached to schools are great, but they are even better when added as part of the school’s larger mission. OMCO Solar got together with Solar Frontier and Cypress Creek Renewables to create the Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School’s new Solar Training Program, in partnership with the Massachusetts Workforce Skills Capital Grant. A renewed emphasis on vocational and technical schools is giving Massachusetts students the opportunity to prepare themselves for higher paying jobs in industries like solar, which is also a booming industry for the state. The opportunity to have access to current solar mounting systems and modules, along with guidance for the instructors from the professionals at OMCO, is vital for skills training.

Best Carport

Chaffey Community College District | Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. | 5.5 MW

Borrego solar carport

This 5.5-MW system is the largest solar carport project to date for a California community college. The energy produced by the three systems will meet 90 percent of the Chaffey Community College’s energy needs and is expected to save the district $28.5 million in energy costs over the life of the project. The system is comprised of solar carport structures on parking lots at Chaffey College and its campuses in Fontana and Chino, all in San Bernardino County. The project is expected to produce nearly 10 million kWh of energy in the first year, which is the equivalent to powering approximately 1,375 average homes in California annually.

Coolest Design

IBEW 332 | San Francisco | 202.3 kW

Coolest concept

This project was cool for a number of reasons: 1. Every load in the building was turned electric from gas in order to become a net zero building — going from paying $140,000 in utilities a year to zero. 2. The solar panels on the roof spell out IBEW, which is short for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The building is in the flight path for San Jose’s International Airport, and the solar array is clearly visible to passengers when landing. An LED lighting system is wrapped around the IBEW panels so that it is illuminated at night too. 3. Energy storage was also included in this project so that the core systems will continue in case of an outage. Basically, they thought of everything, and then thought of a few more things.

Best Value

Harley-Davidson Rally Point at Sturgis Plaza | Sturgis, S.D. | 54.6 kW

Harley Davidson quest renewables

We already picked the best carport, but we had to select this cool carport at the Harley-Davidson Rally Point in the Sturgis Plaza too. So, we named it our Best Value for a few reasons. This space is used as a central gathering point during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and a few other public events during the year. Initially, the city was going to purchase fabric canopies to shade the plaza, but when they realized the fabric system would cost nearly as much as solar, they changed directions (not to mention that 40 percent of the building’s usage would be offset in the summer and 80 percent in the winter). The main challenge was Interconnection Systems out of Central City, Neb., had to bore a 600 ft-long tunnel from the plaza to city hall, but the system was still constructed and installed in just five days in June. And though not typical for the QuadPod solar canopy, the steel for the system was requested to be powder coated black and looks even cooler than usual.

Most Resourceful

Calif. Governor Brown’s Microgrid | Williams, Calif. | 14 kW

California Governor microgrid

California Governor Jerry Brown has a nice property that sits off on its own, except it’s five miles away from any utility power. A bunch of solar companies in the area were contacted to install a solution, but not a lot of companies do off-grid or battery-based projects. Eventually, after researching contractors on YouTube, Jason Andrade of West Coast Sustainables popped up, who has years of experience that proved valuable in this highly detailed off-grid / microgrid that now supplies autonomous power for the entire property. “We used components that could be easily expanded and incorporated the arrays to be functional shade structures,” Andrade said. The system consists of 24 kW of OutBack Radian inverters, 14-kW SolarWorld modules, 34-kWh Simpliphi Lithium-Iron batteries and a Kohler 24-kW propane backup inverter.

— Solar Builder magazine

Expand the growth of community solar with factory-direct systems

community solar

Hands Show Light Bulb Ideas Together Partnership

As of Q1 in 2018, there have been 1,023 MW of community solar projects installed across 26 of the 50 U.S. states, with another 3 GW of expansion projected over the coming years. One of the ways this gets easier is by helping Community Solar projects get off the ground faster, with simple installs and the best rate on factory-direct, BoS systems.

Supporting over 8 GW of utility-scale solar, OMCO is a leading, factory-direct mounting systems manufacturer across the U.S. Being a one-source, cost-effective OEM partner, OMCO Solar is changing the speed and cost of construction for community solar, empowering projects from 500 kW to 2,000 kW or more, with its Field-Fast system. Here’s how.

Simple assembly with fewer components

Most solar mounting structures arrive on-site with hundreds of parts to assemble, sometimes more, depending upon the size of the project. But OMCO Solar has taken this paradigm and solved the problem of time-intensive delivery, staging and set up by pre-assembling all the components for their Field-Fast racking system at the factory. What arrives on site is seven pre-assembled components per rack. No other BoS manufacturer can claim that.

It then takes a team of only two installers to assemble seven Field-Fast racks per hour – that’s nearly one completed mounting system assembled every nine minutes. What’s better is that there is no need for any heavy-lifting equipment and there is zero overhead lifting for the installation team. All assembly happens from the ground-level, including panel installation. The required tools have been consolidated too, so there is minimal gear required to aid construction.


Every Field-Fast rack comes with set-up training from OMCO Solar engineering and construction leads at one of their national manufacturing facilities. Can’t make it to the factory? That’s OK. OMCO Solar staff will talk you through via video chat to answer any questions and make sure your team understands everything they need to know to execute a surefire, correct install that will pass inspection. OMCO Solar customer service support is also available to customers during the entire lifetime of the system.

Factory-direct costs community solar projects less

Factory-direct, Field-Fast mounting systems reduce in every area that typically inflates racking costs. From reducing on-site labor size, cutting build-time and radically simplifying ease of installation, OMCO Solar costs community solar projects markedly less at every stage of construction. Plus, the Field-Fast mounting system is ISO-certified as a quality product. Fabricated from high-quality U.S. steel, Field-Fast is always at the ready for builds of any size, distributed straight to the project from OMCO’s closest factory for optimized logistics.

OMCO solar community project

Field-Fast is also fully NEC-compliant, UL 2701 ed. 1 certified, wind-tunnel tested and able to withstand a snow load of up to 90 PSF and winds of 180 mph. Plus, Field-Fast is compatible with any framed solar module, including First Solar Series 6 panels.

What about undulating terrain?

Field-Fast has the adjustability an in-field team will need, right out-of-the-box. Complete with pre-stamped slots allowing connections to adjust to changes in grade, without any extra parts or cutting of the rack, Field-Fast is fully adjustable for construction requiring elevation changes.

In summation

• 35% faster builds than average
• Lowest labor cost per watt in the industry
• Featuring OEM-direct material buys and total turnkey installation packages
• OMCO in-house design & engineering team to assist communitysolar projects

The solar engineering and fabrication experts at OMCO have leveraged over 8 GW of utility-scale experience and 60 years of custom roll-form manufacturing skills to develop Field-Fast. With a proven capacity to deliver for projects of any size, OMCO’s dedicated team knows each project front-to-back and provides technical knowledge that can’t be matched throughout construction, beginning on day one.

Get a higher-quality mounting system for less money for your next community solar project, no matter the program structure via on-bill crediting, utility-sponsored, special purpose entity (SPE) model, or the non-profit, buy a brick model.

Join OMCO Solar at Community Solar Power Summit 2018 in Minneapolis, July 18-19 at the Radisson Blu Downtown. Can’t attend the show? Visit to schedule a call with an OMCO Community Solar Specialist today to learn more.

Jen Degtjarewsky is a guest editor for OMCO Solar.

— Solar Builder magazine

Pre-assembled mounting structures speed site installation by 35 percent

OMCO Solar site installation

By choosing a mounting structure with a nationwide manufacturing footprint, fuel costs and shipping are greatly reduced when product originates from the most strategic geographic location.

Delivery is everything in solar development. Delivery on-time or even ahead of schedule signals reliability to investors and paves the way for more builds, especially those needed at an accelerated pace due to impending, seasonal weather conditions or site takeovers when the original racking partner could not deliver the job. The sooner the plant comes online, the quicker investors recoup capital and the power of solar proves positive revenue.

The proof is in the numbers as a recent time study shows construction using pre-assembled components, such as factory-direct Field-Fast by OMCO Solar, saves both time and money while still leveraging a bankable, high-quality racking system.

How to reduce every area of typical racking costs

Manufacturing: In the current age of high-velocity, precision manufacturing, selecting a mounting structure that’s OEM-direct saves significantly, but don’t just look for a brand with a manufacturing line, look for one with deep experience, solar know-how and proven bankability.

OMCO Solar is part of OMCO Roll-Form, a 60-year industry leader with coast to coast locations. Also, OMCO Solar is now the largest manufacturer of utility-scale solar mounting structures in the United States. With in-house design and engineering teams, OMCO can quickly solve any site-based requirements right on the factory floor to provide build customization whenever needed. Plus, a partner that runs their own factories significantly reduces lead-time for projects that need to get off the ground fast.

Materials: The current state of the industry has largely been negatively impacted by the tariffs, making solar projects cost more. That’s why it’s vital to select an OEM mounting partner with stable materials-sourcing relationships, ideally using steel that’s sourced nationally.

OMCO solar

OMCO Solar has been exclusively using U.S. steel for over 60 years and has priority supply relationships in place. With the highest materials handling and stocking standards in the industry, OMCO is a partner who can be relied upon for mounting structures for any size project large or small, no matter what the tariffs bring.

Mounting structure flexibility: There is nothing that slows the rate of install more than having to make cuts to adjust racking in the field. When racking doesn’t have the ability to account for undulating terrain, get ready for a long and laborious build schedule.

OMCO Solar has built all the adjustability an in-field team will ever need, right into their Field-Fast mounting structure. With pre-stamped slots allowing for connections at any grade, without any extra parts or cutting of the rack, sites can be erected at a rate of seven structures per hour (10 panels and 300 Watts between two posts), by a team of two installers.


Logistics and freight: Freight costs add up quickly. By choosing a mounting structure with a nationwide manufacturing footprint, fuel costs and shipping are greatly reduced when product originates from the most strategic geographic location.

OMCO Solar has manufacturing facilities from coast to coast, each with the latest equipment and full capabilities to output as many Field-Fast mounting structures as required. Plus, all locations can customize if needed, with high-velocity, precision manufacturing techniques guided by on-site solar design and engineering expertise.

Unloading and staging: Site unloading and staging time can tie-up manpower and eat valuable time from the construction schedule when parts go missing or racking components need to be assembled in the field for staging.

OMCO Solar

By choosing a mounting structure consisting of pre-assembled components, there is no need to waste excessive manpower on part staging. Each Field-Fast mounting structure is comprised of only seven bill of materials items, with zero pre-assembly required in the field. No other BoS product can claim that. Plus, all hardware comes to the site marked, presorted and associated with each racking setup. Also, most of the hardware is pre-threaded for simple tool consolidation and ease of construction.

Labor and safety: Team size and safety during construction factor large in final project cost. That’s why mounting systems that allow smaller in-field teams without overhead lifting or the use of heavy-lifting equipment give solar developers a cost-saving edge.

OMCO Solar racking assembly

The Field-Fast mounting system can be constructed 100% from ground-level for increased site safety. Construction requires no overhead-lifting or heavy equipment and only two installers are required for complete assembly. Time studies in 2018 rank Field-Fast with a labor efficiency of 85 percent.

Modules: Module changes happen. Sometimes they even happen late in construction. Many mounting structures have panel-specific requirements, making module changes a potentially risky and costly endeavor.

OMCO’s Field-Fast mounting system is compatible with any framed module. Plus, as an official First Solar Ecosystem partner, the Field-Fast mounting system is compatible with Series 6 modules. With Field-Fast, module compatibility presents zero financial risks for solar investors. Best of all, when it comes to pure module installation, two installers can ready 300,000 watts per hour via 100 panels.

Pre-assembly: The time pre-assembly saves on build schedules is exponential and echoes throughout the cost of an entire project. Pre-assembly saves money on transport and logistics, staging and, of course, final in-field construction. It even aids permitting as pre-assembly ensures proper racking builds.

OMCO Solar’s ISO-certified, Field-Fast mounting structure is entirely built from seven, pre-assembled components, expertly fitted and packaged in an OMCO factory and ready for projects nationwide from 500 kW builds to multi-MW projects.

Get ready to build

OMCO Solar continues to help developers attack the tariffs through their high bankability, with the factory-direct Field-Fast mounting system and years of worldwide solar construction expertise. To date, OMCO Solar has leveraged over 8 GW of utility-scale experience and 60 years of custom roll-form manufacturing skills to develop the best solar racking structure on the market.

Learn more about OMCO Solar and their factory-direct Field-Fast mounting system here.

Jen Degtjarewsky is a guest editor for OMCO Solar.

— Solar Builder magazine

OMCO Solar expands: New hires to drive expansion of fixed-tilt racking system, project management


OMCO Solar, a division of OMCO Holdings, announced a significant expansion to their solar product offerings and construction leadership teams, bringing years of solar experience to support the launch of their exclusive, Field-Fast fixed-tilt racking solution.

Chosen as Director of Solar Product Engineering, Matt Kesler will oversee all current and future solar engineering and design operations. With a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics from the University of Illinois, Kesler began his career with Motorola Semiconductor and its solar venture, Sunvolt, specializing in solid state physics where he developed proprietary photovoltaic cell technology and testing equipment.

Kesler went on to engineering advancements in medical electronics, where he developed countless patented products, one of which was selected as Product of the Year, by Electronic Products magazine. Returning to the solar industry, he was sought after by leading solar companies as a consultant and as the CEO of a tracker start-up prior to joining OMCO Solar.

Filling another key position, Michael Baker has been announced as OMCO Solar’s Director of Construction Services. With more than 15 years of large-scale solar construction project management, Baker’s affinity for utility scale solar construction requirements and his unique ability to consistently deliver results on large-scale solar projects with compressed schedules made him the obvious choice for OMCO Solar.

Baker brings years of solar project and construction experience from his history of working with industry leaders such as groSolar, AES Distributed Energy, and RES Americas. Baker’s proven experience in leadership roles will guide his decisions when implementing future construction services and strategies to support OMCO’s turnkey offerings.

OMCO Solar Field-Fast fixed-tilt racking

Mounting Pressure: Today’s large-scale PV boom demands new levels of service from racking companies

The OMCO Solar Field-Fast fixed-tilt racking system is simple, safe and quick to deploy. This solar mounting system requires fewer structural components, nearly eliminating loose hardware in the field. OMCO Solar can provide the Field-Fast structures from any of their four, U.S. manufacturing facilities, making this system truly direct from the manufacturer. With over 10 years of solar design and manufacturing experience in the utility sector, launching a proprietary solar mounting system was the logical next step.

“OMCO Solar has adapted proprietary optimal solutions driving from 10 years and 7.5 GW of utility solar experience to create a highly optimized and efficient racking solution. I am proud to have Matt and Michael on the OMCO team as we continue to enhance our offerings to the solar industry,” said Todd Owen, Director and General Manager of OMCO Solar.

OMCO pledges additional information about their growing product offerings, new project announcements, and official partnerships in Q1 of 2018.

— Solar Builder magazine

Mounting Pressure: Today’s large-scale PV boom demands new levels of service from racking companies

Solar FlexRack

For the first time ever, in 2016, U.S. solar ranked as the No. 1 source of new electric generating capacity additions on an annual basis. In total, solar accounted for 39 percent of new capacity additions across all fuel types, and these big numbers are coming via big installs as the utility-scale segment grew 145 percent from 2015.

“In a banner year for U.S. solar, a record 22 states each added more than 100 MW,” says Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. solar research. “While U.S. solar grew across all segments, what stands out is the double-digit gigawatt boom in utility-scale solar, primarily due to solar’s cost competitiveness with natural gas alternatives.”

The trend shows no signs of reversing, and as utility-scale solar projects continue to boom, the industry demand for material and logistical services will keep increasing pressure on suppliers like never before.

Raw materials bottleneck

“It’s a simple matter of supply and demand,” says Chuck Galbreath, VP of supply chain at SunLink. “If I have more time, I can find more options and drive down costs. When schedules are compressed and I’m forced into a tight delivery window, I have to go with the supplier who is able to deliver in the time allotted, which allows less room for negotiation.”

Others agree: “We often encounter requests for expedited finished product that can be more aggressive than the lead times from the steel mills. For our proprietary racking systems, OMCO is now maintaining a responsible level of steel inventory to support these instances,” states Todd Owen, General Manager of OMCO Solar.

The time pinch has led to more in-house manufacturing. “The top five racking manufacturers have reached economies of scale where additional volume no longer decreases price, forcing manufacturers to vertically integrate by producing more parts and material in-house,” says Paul Benvie, VP of engineering at TerraSmart.

Because the sector is so dependent upon the steel market, finished product pricing can be volatile. The recent anti-dumping lawsuits spurred market increases that were felt in all steel industries, including solar. Benvie says TerraSmart has countered the pricing roller coaster by making strategic hedge buys and leaning on suppliers to honor and hold pricing so they are capable of manufacturing product at a reliable price point.

To help combat delivery delays, more mounting companies also are establishing regional centers. “Steel delivered to and from opposite coasts can have a significant impact on costs and schedules,” Benvie says. “Strategic manufacturers have set up facilities that are centrally located and/or have different branches at opposite ends of the country. For example, TerraSmart has opened a new manufacturing facility in Columbus, Ohio, and can manufacture identical parts out of the Southeast, Southwest and New England.”

RELATED: We look at the value decentralized tracker systems bring to a project 

Timelines keep shrinking

“As the solar industry matures and adopts the more typical rigid large-scale construction approach to project schedules, timelines have been compressed and suppliers are now expected to adhere to strict, tight daily schedules,” says Nick Troia, VP of corporate quality and project management at SunLink. “It is a more professional atmosphere that in some cases is straining the less sophisticated suppliers.”

The compression is substantial: “We ask customers for a 12-week lead time, but in this market we are lucky if we get eight,” says Larry Reeves, a project manager for Array Technologies Inc. (ATI). “Schedules are crazy now.”

Seasonal variations also intensify weather constraints. “The solar industry is challenging, as many financiers, developers and EPCs push to close projects out in Q4,” Benvie says. “In New England, this can be increasingly challenging with projects kicking off as the daylight hours get shorter, temperatures drop and field conditions deteriorate.”

“Without getting into the dollars and cents, delays can be very costly, such as the triggering of liquidated damages that could accumulate at thousands of dollars per day or by hindering project completion for a tax credit deadline,” observes Troia.

Losses can be the cost of customer maintenance, too. In some of these unavoidable situations, someone involved in the project has to recognize and proactively eliminate a delay before it happens.

“We believe we are truly partners with our clients, so we commonly shoulder costs or increase productivity to minimize the sting of a delay, regardless of who caused it,” Benvie says.

Next, we look at the turnkey services and systems designed for saving time on project development.

— Solar Builder magazine