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What to Consider When Designing a Solar Ready Building

What to consider when designing a solar ready building

Why Design Solar-Ready Buildings?

Solar-ready buildings allow for future solar installations without the need for expensive adjustments and retrofits. Many existing buildings aren’t a good fit for rooftop solar due to orientation, roof size, shading or other factors. It can be incredibly expensive, or even impossible, to retrofit these buildings in a way that makes solar viable. Even new buildings may need substantial improvements to capitalize on their solar potential. 

This can be avoided by including solar production as a design criteria in the building plan, not adding it after the fact. A few simple changes to the design of a building can make adding solar more predictable and less expensive. 

Building orientation, roof layout, space for PV equipment and knowledge of local zoning and regulatory requirements are all important factors to address. NREL has published two detailed reports here and here detailing the specific technical considerations, which we’ll summarize below. 

Building Orientation & Shading

Anywhere north of the equator, PV systems perform best when facing due south. With this in mind, sloped roofs will work best with one south facing side. While flat roofs are more straightforward, they are still susceptible to shading from nearby buildings and trees. Even small amounts of shading can decrease solar production, so finding a clear area for the solar array is crucial. 

Roof Layout

A contiguous rectangle of solar panels is the most efficient layout, maximizing the system size and reducing load on the roof. A building must have enough flat, unobstructed roof space to accommodate this. With today’s current solar technology, we typically estimate that 10,000 square feet of unobstructed roof space can fit a 126kW solar array (which would produce around 148,600kWh here in Minnesota). For example, take a look at these office and multi-family residential projects. 

Plumbing & exhaust vents, chimneys and other rooftop equipment can interfere with the placement of a solar array. These obstructions should be minimized when possible, and clustered together on the north side of the roof to save space. A good rule of thumb is to place an obstruction twice as far away from the array as the obstruction is tall, to avoid any shading. 

A ballasted solar array can add between 3 to 10 pounds per square foot of load to a building’s roof. The ballast is needed to counteract potential wind uplift. This additional weight should be accounted for when determining the roof’s load capacity. This is another reason that it’s helpful to cluster your rooftop units and other obstructions together in a spot away from the solar array. Having to work around those elements will change the layout of the system, and increase the load on that particular area of the roof. 

The color and material of the roof can also impact solar performance. White TPO membrane roofs, which provide increased reflectivity, can boost solar energy production up to 15% when bifacial modules are used.  

Your roof is a long-term investment and maintaining the existing warranty is key. Before selecting a roof material and manufacturer, it’s good to look into what is required to install solar on top of that membrane and how the warranty will be maintained. Most, if not all roof manufacturers have a process in place to retain the roof warranty after a solar installation, but the requirements (and associated costs) can vary widely. 

Electrical Requirements

Designing the building’s main electrical panel to accommodate solar without utility upgrades will also make interconnection easier. A good rule of thumb is to allow for 100 amps of electrical gear for every 100kw of solar. So a 1MW rooftop solar array would require the ability to connect a 1,000 amp service to the electrical gear, via a disconnect or breaker integrated into the gear. 

Identifying where the inverters and other solar electrical equipment will be located (on the roof or near the main electrical panel) should be part of the building design process. Ensure that adequate space is left at whichever location is chosen, and there is easy access for future maintenance. We recommend leaving 15 linear feet available for new solar equipment.   

Zoning, Permitting & Policy

Zoning laws, permitting requirements and their potential impact should be understood during the building planning process. These rules can cover the potential height of new neighboring buildings, how close a solar array can be to the edge of the roof or if there are historic preservation protections in place. 

Depending on the location of the building, there may be system size limits or interconnection restrictions that impact the solar system design. For example, in Xcel Energy territory in Minnesota, solar systems can be net metered up to 120% of a building’s energy usage or 1MW, whichever is reached first. Most other utilities in Minnesota only allow net metering up to 40kW. Similarly, knowing which federal, state and utility incentives are available will help maximize the solar project’s positive financial impact. 

Let’s Talk About Solar-Ready Buildings

Overall, there is a lot to consider when designing a solar-ready building, but the long term benefits are more than worth the extra planning. Impact Power Solutions has been helping organizations implement solar projects for over 30 years. If you’re interested in learning more about designing a solar-ready building, or want to see how solar can work for your organization, reach out to us today! 

How Solar Can Help Your Company Achieve Corporate Sustainability Goals

Many companies are turning to solar to achieve their corporate sustainability goals in response to shifting external factors, investor attitudes, and stakeholder preferences. With interest in corporate solar surging, we wanted to highlight recent examples of those external factors, show how solar can help, and illustrate how solar has helped our clients and collaborators achieve their goals. 

What Is Corporate Sustainability?

As the Ivey Business Journal puts it, “Corporate sustainability recognizes that corporate growth and profitability are important, it also requires the corporation to pursue societal goals, specifically those relating to sustainable development — environmental protection, social justice and equity, and economic development.”

Unfortunately, many companies struggle to gauge the effectiveness of their programs. A recent survey of both public and private companies revealed that while 81% of respondents’ companies have formal programs in place, only 50% of those respondents believe their company performs effectively. Fortunately, solar can help companies produce substantial, measurable results for their corporate sustainability goals. 

Environmental Protection 

A recent United Nations report, approved by 195 governments and based on 14,000 studies, confirms that humans are responsible for climate change. While the results are unsettling, there is still hope to achieve the best outcome with a coordinated effort and swift policy change. Since solar energy systems do not produce air pollution or greenhouse gases, they can drastically reduce your organization’s carbon footprint and are also an impactful way to advance your building’s green credentials. While your company may not influence policy, it can still take part in the coordinated effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

Take The Vomela Companies’ on-site solar array as a recent example. The company is projected to offset nearly 36,000 tons of CO2 over the next 30 years, which will make a significant and positive environmental impact. That’s the equivalent to adding 44,000 acres of trees to our forests. Additionally, the company achieved the sustainable green printing certification by pairing solar with other environmentally conscious practices.

 

The Vomela Companies Rooftop Solar Array  An Aerial View of The Vomela Companies’ rooftop solar array in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Social Justice and Equity 

The senate recently passed the $1 trillion infrastructure plan, allocating $36 billion in investment to fight climate change. In the proposal it states that, “the plan prioritizes addressing long-standing and persistent racial injustice. The plan targets 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to disadvantaged communities.” 

According to the IEA, solar energy has surpassed all other forms of energy as the most affordable electricity source in the world. Despite this, disadvantaged communities have less access to solar energy and its benefits compared to their counterparts. As outlined by the Scientific American, ”Racial and ethnic minorities have less access to solar power, regardless of income, highlighting the need for environmental justice.” Providing these communities with access to cheap, clean energy is an actionable way for organizations to take part in both social and environmental change.  

Look at Shiloh Temple’s rooftop community solar project as a recent example. Faith groups, businesses, and organizations across North Minneapolis banded together to create positive change. While other solar gardens are being developed to allow large corporations or municipal governments to subscribe, this garden demonstrates a new model by placing clean energy in a low-income community of color, creating green jobs for local residents, and ensuring access to community solar. 

 

Community members participating in Shiloh Temple's ribbon cutting eventCommunity members participating in Shiloh Temple’s ribbon cutting event.

Economic Development

In a recent statement by SEC chairman Gary Gensler, it was announced that plans are in development for mandatory climate reporting by the end of the year, signaling publicly traded organizations to be prepared for addressing environmental, social, and governance issues. Larry Fink’s 2021 annual BlackRock CEO letter said it best. “There is no company whose business model won’t be profoundly affected by the transition to a net zero economy.” 

Jobs in the solar industry are growing 17 times faster than the US economy and 90% of newly installed electric capacity was from renewable sources in 2020. Solar installer has been consistently ranked as one of the fastest growing jobs in the US in the past 5 years, according to the SEIA. Companies that meet their energy needs with rooftop solar are supporting economic development through manufacturing, installation, and more. Opportunities for companies to support economic development with solar are not limited to rooftop installations, either. Sourcing energy from community solar gardens provides economic support to rural communities, while giving farmers and landowners a valuable opportunity to diversify income streams. 

In a recent collaboration with Summit Academy, Target Corporation, and the City of Minneapolis, IPS led a workshop with recent Summit Academy grads and solar career hopefuls to help prepare them for NABCEP certification, the most well established certification in the renewable energy field. The IPS team shared their solar industry knowledge, the students received real world experience, and Target Corporation reinforced their commitment to renewable energy by supporting future renewable energy leaders.

 

Recent Summit Academy Grads, IPS team members, and Target representatives

Recent Summit Academy grads, Target representatives, and IPS team members.

Consider Solar for Accomplishing Your Company’s Corporate Sustainability Goals.  

If your company is looking for practical ways to achieve its corporate sustainability goals, we encourage you to evaluate solar. In addition to drastically reducing energy costs and carbon emissions, solar can compliment multiple company initiatives. Interested in learning more about what solar would look like for your company? Request a quote to see if solar is right for you! We’ve been happy to learn about your energy needs, educate inquirers, and demonstrate Solar’s payback for over 30 years.

2021 Top Solar Contractors: Our 10th Year

What is the 2021 Top Solar Contractor’s List?

Curated by Solar Power World, the Top Solar Contractors list is developed each year to honor the work of solar installers in the United States. Solar firms in the utility, commercial and residential markets are ranked by number of kilowatts installed in the previous year. Companies are grouped and listed by specific service, markets and states.  Solar Power World has recognized our installation success by ranking Impact Power Solutions at No. 13 on the 2021 Top Solar Developers list.

From the Curators of the 2021 Top Solar Contractor’s List

“Not even COVID-19 closures and slowdowns could prevent the solar industry from installing fantastic numbers last year,” said Kelly Pickerel, editor in chief of Solar Power World. “The Solar Power World team is so glad to recognize over 400 companies on the 2021 Top Solar Contractors list that not only survived a pandemic but thrived in spite of it.”

A Year to Remember

The U.S. solar industry grew 43% in last year, installing more solar panels on homes, businesses and across the country than any other year on record. The residential market saw an 11% increase, which is remarkable considering the difficulties of maneuvering home solar projects through pandemic precautions.

The federal government passed a two-year extension on the solar investment tax credit (ITC) at the end of 2020, which will further accelerate solar adoption across all market segments. After installing 19.2 GW in 2020, research firm Wood Mackenzie expects the U.S. solar market to quadruple by 2030.

Regardless of the turbulence faced last year, solar energy has remained effective in combating greenhouse gas emissions as an alternative to fossil fuels, and will continue to aid in efforts for economic recovery

Our Take On Being A Top Solar Contractor

When asked why we keep coming back to the top solar contractors list, Chief Development Officer Eric Pasi said “In the beginning it leant a lot of credibility to our small business, and still does today. It’s also a way to push our team to new heights, trying to beat last year’s statistics and keep growing, which we’ve been able to do.” 

We’re honored to be recognized as a Solar Power World top solar contractor. In the 30 years since our founding, we have never overcome challenges like the ones faced this year. We extend our deepest thanks to our employees, clients, and community for making the installation of 34,618 kilowatts of solar capacity possible, and for the positive impact we’ve made on the environment together. 

If you’re curious to see what solar would look like for your organization, feel free to reach out via email at info@ips-solar.com, contact us, or request a quote to learn more. 

The Omnibus Energy Bill and What Solar Means for Schools

SCHOOL | Snail Lake Kindergarten | Shoreview, MN | 40 kW SystemSCHOOL | Snail Lake Kindergarten | Shoreview, MN | 40 kW System

The Omnibus Energy Bill

Minnesota legislators recently approved the omnibus commerce and energy policy and finance bill. The aim of the bill is to support renewables, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, make prescription drugs more affordable, and provide additional rights to student loan borrowers. As far as energy is concerned, over $60 million will be used by the renewable development account for the following:

  • Reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Establishing building electrification goals.
  • Creating a process and transition program for retiring generation facilities.
  • Improving siting provisions for solar on farmland.
  • Creating carbon intensity reduction standards for transportation.
  • Facilitating the expansion of a solar plant.
  • Supporting solar projects on k-12 schools and community colleges.
  • And many other initiatives.

With Minnesota’s economy reopening and the school year quickly approaching, this program will be instrumental in providing schools equitable access to solar energy. 

What it Means for Schools 

$16 million will be available for solar projects on K-12 schools, and $5 million will be available for community college projects. In greater Minnesota, the maximum system size will be capped at 40 kW and projects in Xcel will be capped at 1 MW. The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association projects that the funds could support roughly 350 schools across the state, nearly tripling the current total of school installations. 

There is a focus on equity within this program as well. Within Xcel territory, 40% of the program’s funding will be directed to schools where at least 50% of students receive free or reduced lunches. This will help school districts with a large percentage of low-income students invest in solar and save on utility bills.

Saving on Utility Bills 

Installing solar panels can greatly reduce utility spending on schools, saving significantly in the long run. For example, Mounds View School District installed solar on 13 buildings, and will reduce energy costs by $2 million over the next 25 years. With solar, schools can also protect against rising electricity costs, guaranteeing electricity prices for up to 20 years. 

Hands-on STEM Opportunities  

Solar isn’t just a way to save money on energy, it also provides an opportunity to educate the next generation of energy leaders. Take ISD 197’s sustainability manager’s example, “It’s hard to encourage kids to be excited about learning about energy. This is one way that they can actually see it in action.” In fact, schools must have an educational component in order to participate. In addition to providing an opportunity to see solar in action, IPS clients are offered standards based STEM curricula and educator workshops, free of charge with the Sunrise Program.

Acting Sustainability

Switching to solar energy is one of the biggest changes we can make in our communities to curb climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), generating electricity contributes over one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. With rising concerns about our carbon footprint and the mounting cost of energy, solar is a wise investment for the health of the environment and generations to come. 

Flip the Switch on Solar for your School! 

Nearly a third of all Minnesota schools with solar have worked with IPS, and we are happy to help educate schools about the efficacy of solar energy. If you’re interested in learning more about solar, or seeing if solar is right for your school, simply request a quote, call, or reach out to info@ips-solar.com to get started. We’d be more than happy to coordinate a tour at one of our schools to see an array in person!


Helpful Links for Schools Considering Solar Energy: 

MN Clean Energy Resource Teams | Additional Omnibus Energy Bill Info | Our Schools | Standards-Based STEM Curricula

Impact Power Solutions Ranked top 10 Solar Developer in the US

What is the Top Solar Contractor’s List?

Curated by Solar Power World, the Top Solar Contractors list is made to showcase the work of solar installers and developers of all sizes. The list is determined by the number of kilowatts installed by a solar energy company in the previous year, divided into categories by the type of service the top solar contractor provides, regions, and states.

From the Curators of the Top Solar Contractor’s List

“The Solar Power World team is so pleased to highlight more than 400 companies on the 2020 Top Solar Contractors list, especially during this unprecedented time,” said Kelsey Misbrener, senior editor of Solar Power World. “All contractors featured on the 2020 list reported strong 2019 installation numbers and are continuing to stand tall this year.”

Top Solar Contractors Continue To Strive For Recovery

Despite COVID-19 being the immediate issue for the world to address, reducing carbon emissions to aid in climate change remains a top priority that affects all of us. 


The top solar contractors that made the list, the people we work with, and the communities we live in are all facing obstacles that have never been seen before. Q1 showed the largest amount of solar capacity ever installed in the United States, adding 3.6 GW of solar capacity. The force of these challenges emerged in Q2, with forecasts of 25% and 38% decreases in year to year volumes in 2020. 


Regardless of the turbulence faced in these uncertain times, solar energy is still effective in combating greenhouse gas emissions as an alternative to fossil fuels, and will continue to aid in efforts for economic recovery

Our Take On Being A Top Solar Contractor

We’re thrilled to announce that we are the #1 solar developer in the Midwest, among the top 10 commercial solar developers in the US, and grateful to be a part of Solar Power World’s Top Solar Contractors list for the 8th consecutive year.

 

In the 29 years since our founding, we have never faced challenges like the ones we see today. We extend our deepest thanks to our employees, clients, and community for making the installation of 29,784 kilowatts of solar capacity possible, and for the positive impact we’ve made on the environment together. 

IPS Solar is now Impact Power Solutions

 

IPS Solar is now Impact Power Solutions.

We are proud to share that we have a new name and brand identity! It’s a different look, but rest assured, our core beliefs haven’t changed at all. Our unwavering commitment to our values, our customers and our mission remains the same.

All companies work to generate profits and create value, but the best run-companies do more. They have a broader, more complete view of corporate responsibility that is focused on creating value for all. That mindset has helped pilot our business for 30 years, emphasizing long-term success over short-term gains. Now, as our company enters this exciting new era, we feel that it’s time to update our name and mission to reflect those beliefs. 

We believe our new name, Impact Power Solutions, better embodies who we are, what we believe in, and how we help our clients succeed. As we grow, so does the impact we have on our clients, the communities we serve, and the climate. We are dedicated to maximizing that impact on and off the balance sheet.

That means continuing current initiatives like our Sunrise Educational Program and our efforts promoting local workforce development, while starting new ones like our partnership with the American Forests Organization to plant one tree for every kilowatt of solar we install.  

Company founder Ralph Jacobson is taking on a new role as Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer.  This will allow him to expand his efforts with under-represented communities.  Ralph is working on phase two of the Red Lake Solar project this year, bringing in tribal members to learn about solar technology and career pathways while installing panels on roofs. 

Our core purpose – to build a better future by providing access to renewable energy – has always been the foundation of our success, and will remain the cornerstone of who we are as we take on a new name and look. 

We’d like to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all of the clients and partners who have helped us make the last 30 years a success. We can’t wait for the next 30! 

IPS Announces Tree Planting Partnership

 

Turning Solar Into Saplings!  

We’re extremely excited to announce our partnership with American Forests to plant one tree for each kilowatt of solar we install in 2020 and beyond! 

Climate change can’t be solved without fully using the power of forests to help capture and store carbon dioxide emissions generated by human activity. More than 14 percent of U.S. carbon emissions each year are absorbed by our forests, and there is potential to grow this natural carbon sink by restoring our forests and planting more trees. 

American Forests is the oldest national conservation organization in the country. They have been working to restore threatened forest ecosystems and inspire people to value and protect urban and wildland forests for over 140 years. 

Expanding the tree canopy of our nation’s forests will improve the quality of life for residents and make our communities more sustainable, beautiful and livable. We’re honored to be working with a great organization like American Forests to help make this happen!