How to leverage solar energy production

Nov. 6, 2019
Federal, Illinois state incentives make solar practical for commercial facilities

Recent legislation has allowed solar production installations to boom commercially and residentially, according to Brian Haug of Continental Electric, who presented at the International Society of Automation (ISA) Will-DuPage chapter’s October technical meeting, which took place Oct. 15 in Romeoville, Illinois. Haug gave a presentation about how industrial facilities can leverage solar production to their benefit. 

“There is no time better than right now to put solar on your facility as far as I can see in the future, incentives are only going to decrease from here,” he said.

In fact, Haug said that return-on-investment (ROI) for commercial solar projects is down to five years or less, depending on the type of solution installed. This is a result of the incentives from the federal government and state governments like Illinois. Not to mention the benefits from local energy companies.

“Payback on a solar solution installation depends on how many benefits you can take advantage of,” he explains. 

However, it’s not just governmental interest in solar energy that’s driving its adoption. Improved technology and better implementation of that technology have all helped the acceptance and use of solar power production.

Haug laid out the options available to commercial facilities, like ground-mounted or roof-mounted panels, where they should be installed and at what angle, but emphasized the benefits of building a system including a battery in the system.

“If the grid goes down, your solar goes off, because the power company doesn’t want their linemen to get whacked while they’re out working to bring the lines back up,” Haug explained. “… If you have a battery, generator or another source that can generate a frequency and voltage, and a Schweizer relay, you can resurrect that, without putting that lineman at risk.”

He further explains: “In normal operations, the grid and solar provide power; the battery is able to just sit there. When the grid is down, it can come online. … It can give you that ride through, not generating power for hours and hours, but when the grid is down, the battery is meant to give you time to respond and do a controlled shutdown.”

Facilities can also be completely disconnected from the grid and run on their own solar- and battery-powered micro-grid. This allows facilities to keep their operations running for longer periods of time, compared with the scenario above.

For example, one of Continental Electric’s clients calculated that each time the grid goes down, they loose $250,000, so if the grid goes down four times a year, the company is out $1 million. With the use of their own micro-grid, they’re able to keep their operations running and avoid the loss.

Haug also noted that some companies have found that they can lower their utility bills by utilizing a micro-grid during peak hours.

“Utility companies have to have enough energy for everyone each day. So, based on what someone uses during the Top 5 hours of energy use for the year, the utilities will charge more for capacity the next year,” he explains. “So, you can shut down and run on battery during these times to save capacity.”

Finally, he noted some other aspects that should be taken into account when considering or planning a solar installation.

“Some projects take a while to come to fruition,” Haug said.

Among the potholes on the road to solar power for several facilities is the roof. Solar panels have a relatively long lifespan, and oftentimes, the roof they’re being installed on won’t last as long as the panels themselves or are in need of repair regardless.

In order to manage the costs associated with the installation, Haug said some clients have spread the project out in various budgets, which is more financially manageable, but gives the project a much longer timeline for completion.

The ISA Will-DuPage Chapter’s November technical meeting will take place Nov. 19 in Joliet, Illinois, and will feature Roy Tomalino of Beamex discussing instrumentation calibration technologies and strategies.