investment in solar power
Energy has taken solar power to heart, installing the largest
privately-owned rooftop plant in the state of Florida to provide power
to its solar PV panel manufacturing plant and corporate offices.
The U.S. has literally millions of square feet of rooftops just begging
to be used for something other than dust collection.
Energy has found a very powerful use for its 318,000 square feet of
rooftop: it's now stage one of the Rinehart Solar Farm. The 1.4 MW
Rinehart power plant has eliminated the monthly electric bills for the
entire company, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
Florida's Bluechip Energy (BCE) has found a use for its 318,000 square
feet—stage one of the Rinehart Solar Farm. The power
generated by the rooftop provides 100 percent of the energy needed by
the company's manufacturing plant, Advanced Solar Photonics (ASP), as
well as its corporate offices.
The 1.4 MW Rinehart installation is the largest privately owned rooftop
solar plant in the state of Florida. The power plant has eliminated the
monthly electric bills for the entire company, saving hundreds of
thousands of dollars annually.
The company, of course, already knew something about solar plants
before embarking on the project. ASP is a manufacturing and R&D
center for crystalline silicon solar photovoltaic (PV) panels for
utility, commercial, and residential applications. Its roots go back to
2000, with the start of manufacturing laser cutting and laser marking
equipment—which it still operates today.
Laser applications for solar module manufacturing sparked the launch of
ASP as a PV equipment manufacturer in 2009, and as part of a vertically
integrated business model along the solar value chain, BlueChip Energy
was created as a project developer and EPC.
Today, BCE is unique in that it is a fully integrated solar PV power
generator—from manufacturing to turnkey solar power plants.
The company develops, finances, constructs, operates, maintains, and
monitors solar PV plants. Manufacturing allows ASP to focus on
high-efficiency, state-of-the-art solar PV modules ranging from 200
watts to 400 watts, as well as fabrication of mounting systems.
"By 2012, ASP had expanded to become one of the largest producers of
crystalline silicon PV panels in the United States and one of the few
producers in the U.S. of Buy American Act-compliant products suitable
for government, military, and municipal projects," says Lawrence
Hefler, director of corporate marketing for the company.
The Rinehart rooftop installation is just Phase I of a two-phase
project. The second phase is an 8-MW ground mount system that will be
operational in 2013. The enormous rooftop solar farm, however, has been
operational since 2011 and has been saving the company thousands of
dollars every month since the day it started up. The company's
corporate offices and manufacturing plant rooftops were ideal for the
project. The panels cover approximately 70 percent of the available
square footage leaving some room for expansion.
"It's a very large building—the equivalent of two Super
Walmarts," says Ron Henson, project manager for BCE. "If we expand the
roof in the future, we may be in the position to sell power on a
monthly basis. But right now, it's pretty much meeting our own demands."
Henson says the basic system components included ASP 240 watt PV
panels, an ASP SunRail ballasted racking system, four 266 kW Solectria
Renewable inverters, and two Fronius 60 kW inverters. All work to date
has been completed by BlueChip Energy's own engineers, electricians,
and installation crews.
BCE wasn't able to tap any state tax incentives in Florida, such as
those offered in states like New Jersey and California, but that just
requires them to become economically creative.
BCE prides itself on offering companies an economical alternative
because of its vertical integration. On this project, however, the
savings really mounted up as ASP not only manufactured its own panels
and used its own crews, but also saved on transportation, with
virtually zero transportation costs—moving the panels from
inside the manufacturing facility to the rooftop.
The close proximity didn't affect workflow. Safety codes were followed,
and access to the roof was through the industrial section so there was
no mixing with the public space.
Rinehart rooftop installation at Bluechip Energy is just Phase I of a
two-phase project. The second phase is an 8-MW ground mount system that
will be operational in 2013.
"We had very short periods of downtime for the electrical
connections—and none during the weekday," says Henson.
Rooftop solar plants aren't for everyone, but this project has
companies with large rooftops considering the option.
"BCE is in the process of evaluating additional solar farm sites," says
Henson. "We've had interest expressed from other manufacturers,
hospitals, municipalities, and a variety of large roof facilities in
Hefler adds, "In the past 12 months, we have been seeing an
increase in commercial installations on a smaller scale—25 kW
to 100 kW. There are many opportunities, though, for the one
megawatt-plus installations for companies with big electrical
consumption and large unused rooftop spaces."
In fact, BCE just completed a 22 kW installation at Bright House
Networks near Tampa, Florida. The company wants to expand it up to 110
kW in the future. "Utility companies in that area offer rebates each
year, which helps bring down the initial installation costs," says
Each rooftop installation has to be designed for the individual roof.
Generally, an office building can support a larger load than a
warehouse, but that's not always the case. BCE evaluates the load
levels and the systems they can bear. Based on the findings, different
systems are recommended.
"You can have weighted ballasts or you can attach directly into the
structural roof," says Henson. In Florida, it's not the weight or "dead
load" that's the major concern, but uplift. "Obviously, we have to
design for hurricanes," says Henson. "In Florida, we design facilities
for winds from 110 to 160 mph."
The price of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the past five
years and will likely continue to drop for a bit longer, says Hefler,
making projects like these possible for more companies, even without
state or utility company incentives.
"On commercial systems, a combination of the federal tax credit,
depreciation, and the solar rebates of utilities means a return on
investment can be seen in as little as five years," says Hefler.
Now that the Rinehart Solar Plant is complete and interconnected,
Hefler says one of the highlights is taking people on tours.
"Because it's a 1.4 megawatt project and the largest on a Florida
rooftop, people are impressed when they see what can be done," he says.
"Rooftops are basically functional and under-utilized, but they're very
valuable because they have the maximum exposure to sunlight, which is
really what you want."
the southeastern region, and that it can get some wild weather,
Bluechip Energy designs solar power facilities for hurricanes. In
Florida, the company designs
facilities for winds from 110 to 160 mph.
is about more than just rooftop solar farm installations, though.
"We're currently developing the first phase of the 100 MW Sorrento
Solar Farm in Lake County, Florida, recently ranked as the 10th largest
PV plant under construction in the world with a completion by 2016."
The Sorrento project required re-zoning and land-use approvals and BCE
is constructing a 20-foot wide buffer all along the outside perimeter
next to residences, heavily landscaped with trees and shrubs to provide
an aesthetic screening.
"One of the fortunate things about solar farms is that they're quiet,"
says Henson. "They don't use utilities; they don't create and generate
traffic. So, they're very good neighbors."
In addition to Sorrento, the company is also excited about the new
addition to ASP's PV product lineup—the first American made
bifacial, dual-sided glass PV module, which debuted in July at
Intersolar North America in San Francisco.
Bifacial solar panels generate more electricity by converting direct,
radiant, and scattered solar energy on both the front and the backside
of the module.
A thinner tempered glass increases overall module efficiency by 10
percent and holographic material sandwiched between the silicon and EVA
layers maximizes the time per day the modules can generate electricity
from the sun. Combining these and other innovative elements, the energy
output is as much as 30 percent higher than conventional technology.
It's an exciting time for Bluechip Energy with new products, rooftop
installations, and soon one of the largest solar installations in the
"In the last three years, we've doubled our staff and facilities," says
Hefler. "When I started with the company in 2010, there were 20 people
and now there's 200. We've created lots of jobs in the clean energy
environment in a relatively stagnant economy. Because we do everything
from manufacturing to project development to engineering and
construction to electricity sales, there are a lot of opportunities
The company is having a few growing pains—like finding
technical designers and qualified installers for solar facilities in
central Florida. "Thermal solar expertise has been around for a while,
but the solar electrical business is fairly new," says Henson.
At the end of the day, though, there are no complaints about the
company's rapid growth. "We have come a long way considering our
manufacturing jump started in 2009," says Hefler. "Now, in terms of
production capacity, we're one of the largest manufacturers of
crystalline silicon PV modules in the U.S."
Henson adds, "We're proud of what we do to not only help the
environment with innovative products and services, but also that we've
been able to create economic vitality for our own central Florida
communities. We're creating jobs for people in a field that is
expanding and has a very promising future."