Have you ever seen a sea of solar panels over a parking lot or above a building you visited? If you answered, not really, you are not alone. Although Georgia is currently ranked 11th in the nation for total solar production, most of it is utility scale. Offices and business buildings fall behind the national average. Companies like ASHRAE, however, are helping change that trend. Here is their journey.
ASHRAE, founded in 1894, is a not-for-profit global society advancing human well-being through sustainable technology for the built environment. A key component for achieving net-zero energy (NZE) performance was installing a solar system capable of producing close to 100% of the yearly energy consumption.
The process began with taking actions to bring down the total energy usage and conserving the maximum amount of energy possible. The second step was a competitive bid process where solar installation firms submitted their proposal and worked in conjunction with the ASHRAE team. In the end, Creative Solar USA, was chosen to design, permit, install and complete the project. While ASHRAE initially thought they were going to have to clear part of their land to make room for the solar panels, Creative was selected in part because of their penchant to use every possible existing surface available while minimizing the environmental footprint.
Creative Solar designed a combined system of 332kW, divided in three main sections. ASHRAE had enough space to install 186 kW of PV on a ballasted rooftop mount. Ballasted mounts typically are slanted at 10 degrees and are held in place with cinder blocks to give them resistance to airlift. The majority of flat roofs and slightly sloped roofs can support ballast mounts. These mounts are built to last 25 years and can endure Georgia’s weather.
The second set of panels consisted of a 65 kW system on a south-facing hill adjacent to the building and allowed for a tighter placement of panels allowing for maximum efficiency. Ground mounts can go on flat pieces of land and slanted as well. It is best to place panels around or as close to 33 degrees for optimal production in the state of Georgia. This angle is subject to change depending on what part of the globe the system is on. The slope allowed narrower spacing between rows than usual and higher energy density. It was the equivalent of allowing more people the view of a sport field when they are seated on bleachers. Racking for this section was provided by PLC (link).
The last set of panels is an 81 kW ground mount situated above an unused section of their parking lot. This example illustrates the various options how solar can be installed on a business’s land. The shading from trees in the southern part of this section was factored in the location of the first row. Our software aurora solar and suncatcher app allows us to accurately predict the sun’s path.
Unused parking spots are phenomenal opportunities for solar as these resting pieces of land can become a revenue-generating asset. The typical commercial project has a double-digit ROI and a 4-8 years payback. It can also serve as a concrete example of the company’s environmental commitment. The loan for the project came from United Community Bank, a local bank, with their own internal renewable division and a keen understanding of the value of solar.
The systems consist of 885 panels manufactured by Renewable Energy Company (REC) panels that have a 25-year production warranty and are wired with SolarEdge inverters that allow the system to be monitored 24/7. With little to no maintenance, ASHRAE can safely monitor and measure how much energy production they are producing at any given time and be notified of even minor system issues.
This project is a prime example of Creativity, ingenuity, environmental stewardess and sound business practices.
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