As top American companies commit to sustainability and renewable energy goals, one option for businesses to achieve their goals is to install on-site solar across their corporate campuses. By combining available space on office rooftops, adjacent land, and parking lots, companies can generate clean energy for their corporate offices, save in operating expenses, achieve corporate tax benefits — all while creating a green workplace for their employees.
Designing and installing multiple commercial solar systems on a corporate campus is more complex than a single-site project but often results in better economics. In this post we discuss the benefits and considerations when installing multi-site solar portfolios.
Utility programs for corporate campuses
For starters, in California, corporations can take advantage of the utility meter aggregation program where a system can be installed that offsets additional meters that aren’t electrically connected to as long as those parcels are contiguous. Many corporate campus projects have utilized both meter aggregation and traditional net metering to build the most economically attractive project.
Your campus is more than just a single project
One of the biggest challenges with a multi-site portfolio is treating it as a single project — when in fact it’s really a complex series of separate construction projects that require extra coordination and planning. Every site in a portfolio will have its own structural and engineering considerations. They may have phased construction schedules, different equipment specifications, and various site requirements. And if they’re not all in the same area, they may have varying interconnection requirements.
Thinking of a campus as a single project is a common misconception that can lead some installers to under-staff the project and spread resources too thin. Whether the projects are happening all at once or phased to roll out over time, all the sites in a solar portfolio deserve the individual planning and design of single-site projects. It’s important to staff appropriately and approach each project within a portfolio as its own construction project.
Strategic phasing for your solar installations
From the start, one of the most important decisions will be whether to build the sites simultaneously or phase the projects in a sequence. Smaller projects might take as little as 6-10 weeks, and larger megawatt projects might take as long as 8-10 months. When factoring in multiple locations — each with their own design, engineering, permitting, and construction — it becomes critical to choose a solar installer that can help create a strategic phasing plan.
It’s rarely the case that all projects in a portfolio can start construction simultaneously, and much more likely that they’ll cluster into at least a couple phases. We work with our clients to prioritize projects based on their business needs and the complexity of each site. Some of the considerations are largely economic, so a company might start with the largest system to get it online and operational.
Other considerations might include the amount of structural work needed, aging roof structures, relocating gas lines, interconnection issues, scheduling, and working around the business and property requirements. If one of the sites is more complex, it might influence the decision to work on other sites while we solve those challenges. For example, if there’s engineering on a roof that needs a little more investigation, we might move to another phase while those details get sorted out.
What we learn up front helps the entire solar portfolio
There are some items within the early discovery phase that we often can do just once, providing greater ease and communication throughout the entire process. For example, initial information regarding shading and weather allows us to make calculations that can apply to multiple sites. Also, what we learn from our initial meetings with the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), fire department, permitting, and third-party engineer can often be included in the entire portfolio.
Consistency across all sites in your campus
When companies install solar across an entire corporate campus, they can achieve consistent engineering and construction standards across the entire portfolio. We have a comprehensive team of in-house professional engineers, applications engineers, drafters, and designers so there is a consistent team working on our projects. And wherever possible, we schedule the same subcontractors to perform the work on multi-site projects so there are consistent installation standards and a steady allocation of resources. If something comes up at one site, we can allocate resources and switch them to other sites in the portfolio so that the overall project stays on schedule.
From a design standpoint, companies often have sophisticated facility systems and a set of design standards across their entire portfolio, or there may be varying standards and architectural requirements at each location. Working with stakeholders across an entire portfolio, Borrego conforms to each company’s requirements to ensure that the solar system fits within the campus aesthetics. For example, if the parking facilities all use a very particular lighting fixture, we match our project plans to those specifications.
Minimizing impact to operations
Another consideration when installing solar is how to minimize disruption to employees and business operations. Construction can cause dust and noise as well as interfere with parking and deliveries. Mobilization of building materials means that large delivery trucks will need to make deliveries at various times. And having multiple construction projects at multiple locations means that a larger group of people will be impacted by the construction.
We have a dedicated project management team whose primary role is to coordinate all the logistical details and scheduling of multi-site projects to minimize the disruption to day-to-day business. We schedule the arrival of equipment and materials to minimize impact on parking and traffic flow. We coordinate between sites and work closely with onsite facility managers to create a construction schedule that works their daily operations.
For one of our large biotechnology clients, we needed to attach solid steel framing members to the roof of one of their buildings which we knew would create very loud noise and vibration. To avoid any disruption to staff work, we shifted our construction schedule to work during middle of the night. Construction crews worked the loud drilling from 2 am to 6 am, then switched out to an entirely different set of tools to do the quieter work each day at 6 am. We met their schedule with no downtime for their employees.
On another project, we worked closely with our customer to develop a specific schedule of working only small sections of a building at a time so that they could temporarily relocate each office affected by the work.
Full-time project oversight on all active jobs
On all solar construction projects, it’s ideal to have a full-time site superintendent on each project site. They will be familiar with all the project requirements and manage the subcontractors on the project site. Some companies may only check in at intervals each day or each week, or have a single site supervisor work across multiple projects. We provide a dedicated, full-time site superintendent at each individual project site. For example, if there are three active construction sites — even if they’re in the same area — each site will have a full-time superintendent there, onsite, each day.
Borrego’s site superintendents are seasoned construction professionals and, often, licensed electricians. They’re trained in all safety requirements and are typically OSHA and NFPA certified. They come to client meetings to discuss the schedule and any site impacts. They do site walks with stakeholders to make sure that we’re preserving common paths of travel and complying with noise requirements.
We also have an in-house quality control manager who performs additional inspections at key milestones for every single one of our projects. As long-time leaders in commercial solar installations, we have developed a rigorous set of standards that go beyond basic building codes and AHJ requirements. We conduct a thorough inspection of key items on each project to ensure we are building a quality system that will operate well for twenty plus years.
Connecting to the grid will largely depend on how the electrical meter is configured. Sometimes, we can connect through an existing meter, or we may need to coordinate a new service. Larger properties may have their own substations. And each site in a portfolio may have different points of interconnection, all going online at different times. Each interconnection has regulations and paperwork to be filed by certain deadlines to make the location operational.
We have a dedicated regional interconnection manager with extensive utility experience managing the interconnection process. They’re familiar with the complex interconnection regulations and deadlines, can recognize when things go off schedule, and have the bandwidth to intervene and course correct to keep projects on track.
Make Energy Savings Your Business
Corporate campuses have the potential to generate solar energy, hedge against rising energy costs, return tax benefits, and reduce energy costs.
Whether companies have committed to 100% renewable energy or are just getting started with solar and/or energy storage, knowing the unique aspects of installing onsite solar can help companies avoid potential pitfalls and navigate the complexities of managing multiple projects. Successfully completing a multi-site solar project can be done economically, on existing infrastructure, and without impact to operations.