The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently voted to add new provisions to the state’s building code. As of 2020, all residential construction (new houses and multi-family residences of three stories are fewer), as well as all major renovations, must be built with solar panels. The provision is part of California’s mandate for new homes to be “net-zero energy” – meaning that they produce as much energy as they consume – by 2020, with all commercial construction to eventually follow by 2030.
For Facility Managers, this begs the question: should new commercial buildings start going solar now, before the 2030 mandate? And if so, how do you begin implementing that efficiently and effectively?
Benefits of Going Solar
Reduces operating costs.
Installing solar panels for commercial projects can greatly reduce monthly energy bills. In fact, solar energy has seen dramatic reductions in cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy produced over the past several years; and now, with the cost of electricity down from 27 cents in 2010 to seven cents in 2016, solar power has grown into an attractive energy option.
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Green branding/marketing opportunities.
Companies or corporations that can boast strong corporate responsibility demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Facility Managers who become LEED Accredited Professionals can also make a big difference with these initiatives.
Low-maintenance energy system.
Because it has no moving parts, a solar energy system boasts incredibly low maintenance needs. Usually, the only maintenance required is keeping the solar panels clean and free of debris. Many solar installers and manufacturers offer 15 to 25 year warranties on parts and installation, as well, which can protect the facility owner from any repair costs.
3 Things to Consider Before Your Commercial Building Goes Solar
Before you take the plunge and go solar with your commercial building, there are a few things to know first. It’s important to note that not all commercial buildings are well-equipped for solar systems or solar panels, and before you install them, it’s a good idea to ensure that your building is efficient enough to utilize them the right way.
Ensure that your facility is already hyper-efficient.
The amount of solar energy you need to produce depends on how much you use, so it makes sense to trim your usage as much as possible before paying for all those panels. Start with an energy audit and look for efficiency upgrades before you draw up blueprints for a new commercial solar system.
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Know the different types of solar systems available.
There are a number of different varieties of commercial installations now, and chances are at least one solution will work for you and your facility. Here’s a quick look at the different options.
- Rooftop systems: This is an obvious first choice for many businesses, as the appeal is that you can utilize unused roof space to mount the solar, out of sight from your customers all while offsetting your power bill. Even with this solution, there are different ways the panels can be mounted that can vary based on your roof type.
- Carport systems: Facilities that don't have the roof space might have a large parking lot area, which makes them a great candidate for carport solar. You can utilize space in your parking lot or garage to mount hundreds of panels, which not only power the business, but also provide shade and cover for your patrons to park under.
- Ground systems: Ground-mounted systems are a cost-effective option for facilities. If you have the land available, ground-mounted systems can be sized to match electricity consumption and designed to be as effective and efficient as possible.
Know your different financing and payment options.
There are several purchase and payment options for commercial buildings that go solar. They can either 1) purchase the solar system outright, 2) take out a lease on it, or 3) use various federal and state subsidies through programs like PACE or SRECs. There are pros and cons to each one, but doing a little research on the different options to figure out which will be most helpful for your facility will go a long way.