Solar canopy installed in just five days, ready for upcoming Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Quest Renewables

Quest Renewables solar canopy can be assembled at ground level.

Interconnection Systems, Inc. (ISI), in partnership with Quest Renewables, completed the installation of a 54.6-kW QuadPod solar canopy system at the Harley-Davidson Rally Point Plaza in Sturgis SD in just five days in June. The plaza is used as a central gathering place during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and for numerous public events during the year. The power generated by the system will offset energy used by the building that houses the Sturgis Public Library and City Hall.

Liz Wunderlich, P.E., City Engineer for Sturgis, had this to say about the construction and the system, “The Harley-Davidson Rally Point is an extremely important public space for the City of Sturgis. Both Quest and ISI did a marvelous job incorporating the new black powder coated canopy into the aesthetic aspect of the Plaza, and were respectful of property, events and of residents. Construction even took a break while the city had a parade going by during fabrication. I am definitely pleased with ISI, Quest and the finished canopy.”

RELATED: Solar carport developers find low-cost opportunity despite the tariffs

The 54.6-kW system features the QuadPod double cantilever system from Quest Renewables. 90% of QuadPod’s construction takes place on the ground, making construction three times faster. After on-the-ground assembly, panel placement, inverter mounting, wiring and lighting, the canopy units are lifted by crane for final attachment, minimizing overhead work and optimizing worksite safety.

Nate Conaway, Project Manager of Interconnection Systems, said of the solar industry, “[It] now employs more people than the oil industry.” He also said, “[The solar industry] is an industry that’s not going to go away.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar carport developers find low-cost opportunity despite the tariffs

Quest Renewables

“But whatever the reason [for the tariff], the consequences probably won’t be severe. The solar revolution is happening so fast that the tariff will make little difference.” — Noah Smith, Bloomberg.

This quote from Bloomberg is certainly true, but the immediate effect has unquestionably caused some projects that were “on the bubble” financially to be canceled, and significantly reduced the profitability of others. The uncertainty of the tariff came when the industry didn’t know the final amounts. This made financing difficult because no one knew what projects were ultimately going to cost. In reality, the module tariff turned out to be a relatively small increase of about $.15 per watt to the cost of solar projects.

There are multiple ways to save more than enough money to make up for the tariff increase. Installation labor efficiencies and civil engineering work provide opportunities to increase efficiency so much so that if these levers are pulled, solar installers will be able to decrease the total cost of their projects even with the module tariff in place.

At Quest Renewables, we are attacking the module tariff by improving installation efficiency in solar carports in four ways:

1. Reducing installation labor costs by 50 percent by assembling our systems on the ground, and then lifting completely assembled carports by crane. The cost of the crane is only about 5% of the traditional cost of labor, so the crane pays off by a lot.

2. Using standard pre-engineered array sizes and configurations. This enables us to optimize and reduce foundation count, so that our products have half the number of foundations of systems of comparable size. Not only does this reduce the overall cost of foundations, but it also reduces the overall project variability costs caused by uncertain soil conditions.

Quest Renewables

3. Leveraging local labor crews to reduce installation costs. When our customers manage the project labor or provide their own crews, they gain two big advantages. First, they eliminate markup from construction. Second, they use a skilled local crew that can install our standard systems over and over and become more efficient over time.

4. Increasing project size by covering parking spaces and drive aisles enables a system to deliver up to twice as many watts as a T-canopy. Our customers can install more watts on a project allowing them to spread fixed costs across more wattage which improves profit margins.

With these cost saving efficiencies in place, developers and installers alike are certainly in a great position to continue growing the solar carport space. As utilities realize the unique ability of distributed generation to reduce myriad grid upgrade costs, several states are supporting solar canopy projects. Quest is seeing a lot of new projects coming to fruition in states like New Jersey, Massachusetts, and soon New York. In the coming months, Massachusetts will announce the final version of the state’s SMART Program. The current version of the program includes favorable incentives for carports.

What about the steel tariff?

With the module tariff proving to be manageable, albeit a little uncomfortable, now we bring focus to the steel tariff.

“President Donald Trump’s foray into trade protectionism heartened a handful of manufacturers in a deeply challenged industry but upset a much larger group of thriving downstream businesses that say they will lose sales and shed employees during what should be a boom time.” — James Rainey, NBC News.

Although Quest’s products are made with 100 percent American steel, the price of all steel is going up, foreign and domestic. The unique design of Quest’s canopies enables Quest to help customers overcome the increased cost from the rising price of steel. Quest is partnering with customers to ensure that the industry can succeed in this environment by not raising prices on our products in response to the steel tariff. Further, foundation reduction in projects using QuadPod solar canopies will overcome the increased cost of steel.

The industry is breathing a sigh of relief because the tariffs, both module and steel, have proved to be more of a speed bump and not a stop sign for project development. The bulk of the harm done by the tariffs was the difficulty to get projects financed, but financing can be found. According to the Department of Energy’s website, it remains “committed to leveraging America’s abundant solar energy resources — driving research, manufacturing and market solutions to support widespread expansion of the nation’s solar market.” Even so, the solar industry needs to remain vigilant in its’ advocacy to make sure that solar is here to stay.

Finn Findley is CEO of Quest Renewables.

— Solar Builder magazine

The ‘Carportunity’: How our electric vehicle future means big things for solar carports

California’s Franchise Tax Board complex

Electric vehicles taking over the road is no longer a question. Sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and all-electric vehicles have surged recently. So now the question is where are all of these things going to get their juice?

A new study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) quantifies how much charging infrastructure would be needed in the United States to support various market growth scenarios for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). NREL notes that most PEV charging occurs at home, but widespread PEV adoption would require the development of a national network of non-residential charging stations. Strategically installing these stations early would maximize their economic viability while enabling efficient network growth as the PEV market matures. NREL says about 8,000 fast-charging stations would be needed to provide a minimum level of urban and rural coverage nationwide.

No one asked us, but we think carport developments have a big opportunity (a carportunity!) to lead the way. The segment is seeing notable reductions in system costs and installation timelines that only make more projects viable.

Quest Renewables

The Value of Expertise

There is enough institutional knowledge among the chief carport construction companies now to give developers and larger investors confidence. Feast your eyes on California’s Franchise Tax Board complex, for example (pictured above). Developed by DGS-Building Property Management and installed by Ecoplexus at one of the largest business campuses in northern California, it is the state’s largest carport installation (10,400 PV panels), covering 1,276 employee parking spaces, spanning over 622,000 sq ft and generating 3.6 MW.

The project was made possible because of Baja Carport’s specialization in pre-engineered, pre-fabricated high-tensile, light gauge steel structures. And in chatting with its team at SPI this year, we’ve learned the company has been able to further streamline the costs of its system.

Then there is 4 S.T.E.L. and its standardized processes. Carport projects involve a ton of engineering and civil approval. 4 S.T.E.L.’s staff of engineers, project managers and drafters can design and erect a carport in their sleep at this point, but the big value comes in swift preapproval of its designs with the California Division of State Architects among other strict jurisdictions and building departments. Design preapproval can literally shave months off certain project timelines.

Park-onomics: Best practices for constructing cost-effective carport projects

Carports are certainly spreading beyond California too. At Michigan State University (MSU), Inovateus Solar is nearing completion of a 14-MW solar carport project spanning five parking lots and 700 sq ft on the East Lansing campus (pictured below). Using Schletter’s Park@Sol concept, the design is a maintenance-free, lightweight aluminum system with canopies standing 14-ft tall at the lowest point to provide enough room for recreational vehicles to park during football season. The carport install is expected to generate 15,000 MWh of electricity annually for MSU with projections showing a savings of $10 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years.

Schletter

Disruptive Designs

Key to the Schletter approach is its Micropile foundation, a hollow metal rod installed deep into the ground (pictured to the right), that requires less concrete material to accomodate even high wind and snow loads.

“The technology innovation of using Schletter micropiles as foundations and precast concrete pads, in addition to the engineering design, cut the construction schedule in half and minimized the risk factors in a rainy environment like Florida,” said Javier Latre Gorbe, VP of Technical Operations for ESA Renewables.

A newer entrant into the carport system space, Quest Renewables, has an especially exciting concept. Hatched as project at Georgia Tech Research Institute in 2011, the design received a work grant from the DOE’s SunShot Initiative and was commercialized in 2014. The hook here is a triangular support structure that requires less steel and allows for most of it to be assembled on the ground (pictured above).

Solar carports will spread across the country as costs decline

A vehicle auction company in Elkridge, Md., put in a 304-kW system and selected the Quest Renewables QuadPod to reduce foundation counts by 50 percent (using 50 percent less steel) to mitigate the poor soil conditions. From site survey to powering up, the system was completed in 45 days with minimal interruption to the parking lot. Another project in Portland, Maine, needed to minimize disruption of the work area. The 90 percent ground-level construction allowed it to be built in just eight days from start to finish. This first parking garage canopy install in Maine will sustain 112 mph winds and 50 psf of snow.

There’s a long way to go to fill in that void NREL is talking about, but it’s a start.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar Builder 2017-06-19 16:15:39

Historic funeral business leaps into 21st century with rooftop solar arrays on seven locations

freedom solar installation

Freedom Solar recently installed more than 530 kilowatts of solar power on seven locations of Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries, the largest and oldest privately owned funeral company in San Antonio.

Powered by 1,634 high-efficiency solar panels, the new solar projects will offset more than 55 percent of Mission Park’s electricity needs at the seven locations: two mortuaries (Oak Hill and Palm Heights), its corporate office, three funeral chapels and cemeteries (North, South, and Dominion), and its funeral home (Brookehill).

The entire system is expected to pay for itself in less than four and a half years. A generous local utility rebate covered roughly 46 percent of total system costs. Mission Park will also receive the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for 30 percent of the project’s total cost, saving the company a total of 76 percent.

Annually, Mission Park’s solar arrays will produce 778,735 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which will offset more than 547 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. Because funeral homes operate 24 hours a day seven days a week, electric bills are a large portion of their operating costs. Mission Park’s project features SunPower 327-watt solar panels, which are the most efficient available today, with unmatched reliability and an expected life of more than 40 years. Freedom Solar Power is a SunPower Master Dealer, the only company with that distinction in Texas.

Once the first phase (the initial seven locations) of Mission Park’s solar project has paid for itself, Tips will begin phase two and have Freedom Solar design and install solar arrays on another set of its locations.

Austin Independent School District adds 600 kW rooftop system

PCI Solar is installing a 600 kilowatt portfolio of rooftop solar for Austin Independent School District (AISD), as well as providing classroom instruction to Austin High School engineering students interested in careers in solar. Austin High is one of the AISD schools receiving a solar energy system, and invited PCI to speak with interested students, some of whom have solar on their homes. PCI Solar staff provided an overview of how solar energy works, the economic case for solar, and the various types of careers in solar energy.

PV in schools: Education sector is one of solar’s best opportunities

“We were really impressed at the knowledge level of these students regarding energy in general and solar specifically,” said Mark Hilpert with PCI. “They asked good questions and had a knowledge far beyond what I had at their age. If these sorts of kids join our industry, we will be fortunate.”

PCI staff and the students discussed a variety of issues including the differences between ground mount, rooftop and carport solar, and the different market opportunities between residential, commercial, and utility scale solar. An informal poll of the students indicated that at least 25 percent of them were actively considering a career in renewable energy.

PCI is nearing completion on the AISD portfolio, which was won through a public competitive bid process. AISD valued PCI’s experience building solar for other school districts, including Alamo Heights Independent School District in San Antonio, TX and Petaluma City Schools in California.

 

ReVision Energy, Quest Renewables design solar canopy atop Portland, Maine garage

revision parking canopy

ReVision Energy, in partnership with Quest Renewables, recently completed the installation of a 193.63-kW QuadPod solar canopy system atop Portland, Maine’s Fore Street Garage. The system has been producing power since late May. Fore Street Garage is owned by ReVision Energy’s customer, East Brown Cow Management Company.

The installation marks the first commercial solar parking garage canopy in the state of Maine. The solar parking garage canopy on the top level of the Fore Street Garage provides shaded parking and cover from the elements for vehicles and provides clean, local, renewable energy to the Hyatt Place. The 193.63kW solar array consists of 578 individual panels wired to seven grid tied inverters and mounted to an advanced long span solar canopy structure.

Park-onomics: Best practices for constructing cost-effective carport projects

The system was designed by Quest Renewables and features seven of their QuadPod solar canopies. To accommodate the addition of the system atop the parking garage, engineers designed it to integrate into the garage with minimal disruption during construction. 90% of QuadPod’s construction activity, including assembly, wiring and lighting, takes place on the ground. After assembly, wiring and lighting, the solar canopies are lifted by crane for final installation, minimizing overhead work and optimizing worksite safety. Worksites are safer and more efficient with construction crews working on the ground.

The power generated by the system will offset energy used by the garage and the Hyatt Place, also owned by East Brown Cow Management Company. The 578 solar panels atop the system will produce an estimated 232,235 kWh of clean, renewable energy each year for decades to come, offsetting over 23 percentof the hotel’s historical electrical consumption. Over its lifetime, this system will eliminate 7 million pounds of CO2 pollution. The array is grid-tied, and feeds into the utility grid anytime it’s making more energy than is being consumed on site. Solar energy is eligible for a federal tax credit, worth 30% of the total project cost.

How Temple Beth Elohim Wellesley financed solar energy for its synagogue

Temple Beth Elohim, a Wellesley-based Reform congregation, has joined with Solect Energy and PowerOptions of Boston, to install a 37-kW solar energy system on the roof of its synagogue. The solar array is a significant addition to the congregation’s efforts toward
sustainability.

As a nonprofit that is unable to benefit from renewable energy federal and state tax incentives, the Temple faced a number of options for financing and installing the solar array. After comparing rooftop solar opportunities from different vendors, a team of congregants, staff and clergy at Temple Beth Elohim selected Solect’s small systems solar program with PowerOptions.

Under the program, Solect installs, owns, and operates the solar arrays on the Temple’s roof, and sells the power generated under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) at a fixed rate for a period of 20 years. However, completing the transaction was not as straightforward as in many other towns. Solar generation works differently under municipal utilities than it does in an investor-owned territory with utilities like Eversource and National Grid. Wellesley is one of 41 towns in Massachusetts that purchase power from the electric utility owned by the municipality, in this case, the Wellesley Municipal Light Plant (“WMLP”).

Special Report: How to Make Money in the Midwest

Massachusetts laws require the utility to be the reseller of power to its customers within the town boundaries. Making the array a reality required a PPA with the WMLP. Under the agreement, the power generated from the array is purchased by the WMLP, who then sells it to the Temple.

“Creating the contractual arrangement with the municipal electric utility requires an understanding of Massachusetts laws and maintaining a focus on value for the customer,” said Kevin Sullivan, Assistant Superintendent for the WMLP. “It required hard work and collaboration from a number of different parties to develop this innovative solution, and I’m thrilled we made it work for the congregation.”

Nexamp Powers Up Community Solar  in Massachusetts

Nexamp logo

Nexamp sent word that it completed a 700-kW facility located in Fitchburg, Mass., that is the first community solar project to serve Unitil customers in Massachusetts and will provide local residents and small businesses with access to the benefits of solar energy for the first time.

Through Nexamp’s innovative Solarize My Bill community solar program, participating Unitil customers, many of whom were previously unable to install solar panels on their own property, are now seeing reduced electricity charges through their subscription to the Fitchburg Solar project. In addition, the neighboring Town of Lunenburg will realize substantial energy cost savings through a long-term agreement to purchase discounted energy credits generated by the project. Together, the Town of Lunenburg and Nexamp’s Solarize My Bill customers are expected to save hundreds of thousands of dollars through their participation in the project.

“Lunenburg has enjoyed a very beneficial relationship with Nexamp,” said Phyllis Luck, Board of Selectman, Town of Lunenburg. “In addition to the Town’s net metering agreement, which is expected to generate over $600,000 in utility cost savings over the next 20 years, Nexamp has extended the partnership to include our Town’s residents, who remain keenly interested in community solar. In fact, Nexamp enrolled nearly 40 Lunenburg households in two weeks’ time to theirSolarize My Bill community solar program and these residents should save over $275,000 in electricity costs over the term of their subscriptions with Nexamp.”

The project is situated on land towards the rear of an active apple orchard in Fitchburg, providing the landowners with a reliable source of ground lease income that will help keep the orchard operational and enable it to offset nearly all of its energy needs from local renewable resources.

Fitchburg Solar is one of 17 community solar facilities that Nexamp has constructed and expects to achieve operations in the coming months.

Three takeaways from SEPA’s community solar report

— Solar Builder magazine