An update on Shea Concrete’s solar energy decision.
By CLAUDE GOGUEN, P.E., LEED AP
Two years ago, Shea Concrete Products decided to make a big investment. It wasn’t to buy a new mixer or crane. It was to install more than 1,000 solar panels on the roof of its facility in Amesbury, Mass. In the summer of 2013, the system produced an estimated 421,000 kilowatt-hours per year. In California, Oldcastle’s San Diego facility has 50,000 square feet of solar panels on its roof and the result has been exponential savings.
Data from the Solar Energy Industries Association, estimates that installations of photovoltaic systems in 2014 increased 36% over 2013. By fall 2014, a new solar project was installed every three minutes. Installations continue to increase while costs continue to decrease.
With changes such as adding solar panels, businesses can be good stewards of the environment by reducing use of fossil fuels while also saving money. In the first nine months after installation, the plant in San Diego saw a 53% decrease in its electrical bill over the previous year. Shea Concrete’s electrical bill for its Amesbury facility was around $6,000 a month prior to installation. It has now dropped to less than $500 a month, a nearly 92% decrease.
The initial costs of solar panels are offset by lower utility costs and also by potential incentives. Figure 1 shows states that offer incentives for solar energy projects. In Massachusetts, for example, the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs has a program called Solar Renewable Energy Certifications. This particular incentive can offer more than 50 cents per kilowatt-hour which can add up quickly. Shea Concrete is estimating its initial $1.4 million investment in solar energy will be paid off by 2020 through incentives and energy savings.
The amount of power produced by the panels at Shea Concrete’s facility will make it a net-zero electrical energy consumer. In other words, the solar panel system will generate enough electricity to fully power the plant without requiring any additional sources of electricity. Greg Stratis, Shea Concrete’s general manager, said the plant has been net-zero since April 2014. The extra energy gathered by the solar panels helps run the plant’s electrical meter backward in order to make more power than needed. When a winter day comes and the panels cannot produce power, his hope is the reserved energy will get them through to spring.
“The objective for us, when the solar panels were designed, was to produce 5 to 10% more energy than we have in prior years,” Stratis said. “I’m hoping now that we have had the panels up for about a year we won’t need to purchase more energy during the winter.”The SunPower solar panels, installed by Beaumont Solar Company of New Bedford, Mass., are American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act compliant. Stratis is very happy with the company’s investment in solar energy. He said maintenance has been worry-free since Beaumont periodically sends out technicians to maintain the solar panels.
“The Shea family did it primarily to help the environment,” Stratis said. “We do other things like recycle our process water and we plan on adding a new office that will be LEED certified.”
The benefits of using alternative forms of energy don’t stop there. As developers continue to push for more sustainable construction, they are seeking suppliers that have the same mindset. A product that requires less fossil fuel to manufacture is important to a decision maker looking for a sustainable building material.
Precast plants all over North America are implementing creative and efficient ways to be more environmentally friendly and also save money. Harnessing power from the sun is certainly a good way to do that.
“If the small town electrical companies where my other three plants are located allowed us to store power on the grid like in Amesbury, I would definitely consider placing solar panels on all of them,” Stratis said. “The whole project has been a huge success.”
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of Sustainability and Technical Education.