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The Solar Revolution at Boulder's Jewish Community Center

The Jewish Community Center in Boulder, Colorado takes pride in featuring a sustainable design-and that design includes rooftop-mounted solar power, installed by The Solar Revolution.

By Diane Mettler

If you were to drive on the east side of Boulder, Colorado, you will want to keep a look out for the city's Jewish Community Center (JCC) with its two-story gently curving metal roof—and jet black 74.4 kW PV solar array. The array, installed by The Solar Revolution of Boulder, was built with the desire to construct something beautiful, functional, sustainable—and with JCC's eventual goal of becoming self-sustaining and functioning at net zero energy.

The JCC, a non-profit organization which provides programs, services, and space where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather in community, looked to the City of Boulder grant program and Boulder County's Partners for a Clean Environment (PACE) program, which provides grants and solar rebate programs to site-based non-profit organizations.

"We took advantage of the grant to do the first system installed on the JCC's metal roof in 2017," explained Doug Claxton, Principal and Founder of The Solar Revolution. "Sandy Briggs, who runs the city's program, does an exceptional job. It's a really awesome program that serves both non-profits and low-income residential houses."

The arrays on the JCC rooftops were completed in two phases, with the hope of a possible third phase, as funding allows.

The first phase array was mounted on the curved standing seam metal roof; the array consists of 108 LG 300W modules and one SolarEdge 33.3 kW Inverter. To mount the modules, The Solar Revolution used S-5!'s PVKit 2.0.

The S-5! PVKit allowed The Solar Revolution to provide value at a lower cost. The kit cut material costs in half, including freight costs. It also cut installation costs in half by eliminating the assembly and installation required by traditional racking. Lastly, it eliminated the risk of voided roof manufacturer warranty as there are no holes.

"S-5! pioneered an attachment solution for metal roofs. We had actually worked with them on some prototyping for their second-generation PV kit. I think it's a really good product," says Claxton. "It only took a couple of days to attach the panels."

The goal for the array was to showcase the fact that the community center used solar power for the purpose of educating the community on solar power. The center planned for and built a kiosk that would show the energy input/output and how solar works as a viable source of clean, renewable energy. In addition, the City of Boulder wanted the array to be highly visible to promote their grant programs. And, of course, the desire was to be as cost-effective as possible.

 
  

"When we did the pitch, the metal roof was a really easy cost-effective solution. You've got this standing seam metal roof available to you that will offer you the best bang for the buck and the fastest installation, no penetrations, really low profile and also highly visible," recalls Claxton. "By putting it on that curved metal roof, we achieved those goals for high visibility so that they could use it as an educational tool."

Being mindful of the JCC's goals for their first array, The Solar Revolution selected their solar panels with care. "The one you see all the time, which is highly visible, that's the one that we wanted premium aesthetics," says Claxton. "LG has their all-black module, which is not only attractive, but highly efficient, so we could maximize what we could get up on that rooftop. I think it is a unique approach to position the array on a really high-profile community building where they are able to send the right message to the community, and also by reducing their energy bills. Not only that, with the savings, the JCC is also able to spend money on more programs, like more children's programs and community programs."

When the JCC wanted to continue their expansion into solar, they once again contacted The Solar Revolution.

"We started talking in late 2018, early 2019," says Claxton. "We built that system in 2019. We didn't really have any more real estate for more panels up on the curved roof. So, for this next phase, we identified a flat roof as being the next best candidate. And since that's a flat membrane roof, it requires a different mounting solution. We used the Ecolibrium EcoFoot 2x ballasted solution designed for its economics and ease of installation."

 
  Doug Claxton, Principal and Founder of The Solar Revolution, which installed the solar project at the Boulder Jewish Community Center, believes that the solar power industry is poised for continued growth. "I think that just knowing the ambitions of the incoming Biden administration, that it will continue to grow well," says Claxton.
  

The second system installed consisted of 86 400W Q Cells Modules which produce 34.4 kW and a second SolarEdge 33.3 kW Inverter. The project took approximately 10 months from the time JCC signed the contract to the time that the system was up.

The array was located on the barn at the "Milk and Honey Farm" and solar powers 100 percent of the farm's power needs, and serves as a valuable educational tool.

"We didn't have to do any remediation or anything like that as it was a brand new roof. And all the engineering worked out well," says Claxton.

Timing turned out to be one of the challenges, working side-by-side with the JCC's day-to-day activities and events. "It's always a challenge installing on a facility, especially the JCC," says Claxton. "It's like a school where there's a lot of activity, a lot of programs going on. You don't want to be doing an install when they were having a board meeting in an adjacent room. But it's more of a logistical challenge, than a technical one. Where are you going to park your equipment when the caterer's vehicles are showing up?"

Because the array is located in Boulder, where high winds are always a consideration, installers needed to attach the structure to the roof using more attachments. "We aren't able to span eight feet like you could down in Arizona, for instance, where they have no snow and lighter winds," says Claxton. "We were attaching much more frequently. And, as for snow, once the black solar panels catch the sun, it starts to melt nicely."

 
In addition to raising the profile of solar power in Boulder, the Jewish Community Center is able to reduce their energy bills. With the savings, the JCC is able to fund more initiatives, like children's programs and community programs.  
  

The system is currently a net-metered system, designed to feed into Colorado's Xcel Energy's grid. In the future, JCC hopes to introduce battery storage, both for demand management, but also for emergency backup power. "We have a third roof that we're hoping to do next year with more grant money, if it's available," Claxton said. "It's just all part of JCC's goal to move towards net zero."

Claxton does have a word of caution. As solar becomes even more affordable and grants more readily available, non-profits and individuals should be patient and do the due diligence required.

When shopping for an installer, he advises, look for one with a good reputation, check referrals, and get more than one bid because there may be even a more cost-effective way to put the system together. And once you have found your contractor, have the proper funding, and signed the contract, know that it can take up to a year for a project to fully go online.

With just 11 employees, The Solar Revolution is not a huge company.

"We're smaller, but we do it all in-house. We are a licensed electrical contractor and the team consists of NABCEP-certified installation professionals," says Claxton. "We're usually focused on high-end projects, whether it's a residential or professional installation. We do a lot of ultra-high-end or very custom design structures, like audience structures."

Despite the restrictions due to COVID-19, the company, deemed an essential contractor, was still able to keep working. "We make it a priority to make sure our team stays healthy on the job and at home," he adds.

Claxton believes the solar industry is poised for continued growth. Even in the last four years, despite some government opposition to renewables in general, there was demand. "I think that just knowing the ambitions of the incoming Biden administration, that it will continue to grow well," says Claxton. "Having an administration that's truly supporting alternative energy will be really helpful."

Since he started in the industry, Claxton has seen the price drop astronomically for solar panels because more and more people are wanting to use renewable energy. "The cost of the inverter component—the brains of a solar array system—has also dropped, while efficiency and reliability are all getting better and better," says Claxton. "And you're starting to see a lot of companies coming on board with more cost-effective racking and mounting solutions like the S-5! PV kit."

And there is more development to come, especially in energy storage, he says. "Over the next decade, the biggest area where you're going to see growth in the renewable sector is going to be storage and batteries."

 


Q1 2021