By Geoff Dunican
Commercial facilities consume an enormous amount of energy.
According to the International Energy Association, buildings and construction account for 30% of global energy consumption and 27% of energy sector emissions.
Meanwhile, facility executives are increasingly looking to make their buildings more efficient and environmentally friendly as they evaluate Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices to improve operations, enhance sustainability, and build better organizations.
Facility executives have a unique purview over their company’s environmental impact, including introducing renewable energy solutions into their new or existing buildings. Specifically, onsite solar can play many roles in facility operations, from taking greater control over energy operations and reducing energy spend to future-proofing a facility with dynamic solar plus storage resources.
The Benefits Of Onsite Solar
Onsite solar power systems present numerous benefits, ranging from substantial energy cost savings to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which are critical in meeting or exceeding organizational sustainability objectives. This includes:
Onsite solar can provide a reliable energy supply to offset all or some of the building’s energy needs. Federal, state, and utility incentives are often available to offset the initial cost of the solar system, making the solar investment attractive to organizational leaders and large owners of commercial real estate.
Nationally, the Inflation Reduction Act introduced an average 30-50+ percent tax credit on qualifying solar installations through 2035. Local incentives will vary but can help further offset the upfront and operational cost of adopting onsite solar.
Onsite solar energy can be paired with other distributed energy technologies, like storage, to provide backup power during blackouts, further reduce energy bills or help maintain power quality. Pairing onsite solar generation with battery storage can provide versatile energy solutions to a building.
Moreover, fluctuating energy prices and grid vulnerabilities in places like California and Texas underscore the need for more diverse energy sources to make companies more resilient in the face of greater environmental risks. Integrating renewable energy solutions help facility executives achieve that goal.
Onsite solar can reduce the facility’s emissions and enhance the operational carbon footprint. According to the Columbia Climate School, solar power reduces CO2 emissions more per acre than trees, and its impact at scale can be transformative.
Onsite solar has a long lifespan and no moving parts. With proper maintenance, it can provide a reliable energy supply for decades.
What To Consider When Going Green
When designing new construction or planning for major exterior and interior renovations, the entire building is your canvas to incorporate as much solar energy as needed. When thinking through the electrical systems of the building, solar should be incorporated in the early planning and design stages.
To implement solar effectively, facility executives must:
- Plan for optimal solar placement to receive unobstructed sunlight
- Ensure there is enough space in the building design to add the desired amount of solar equipment
- Evaluate the physical requirements of all the equipment and the specific local regulations for installing it. Building codes, fire safety regulations, and utility interconnection guidelines will specify the placement, setbacks, and accessibility requirements of the solar system.
- Look beyond the rooftop to consider alternatives locations for solar. The rooftop may not always be an option for a commercial building if the roof is utilized for tenants or is filled with equipment.
Taken together, a forward-thinking approach can allow facility executives to maximize the renewable energy impact on any new construction or renovation projects.
Next Steps For Facility Executives
Reimagining and reorienting commercial facilities around renewable energy can be a daunting task.
Shrink the responsibility by starting with the energy issues you want to address, and set facility-level goals around them.
Since any solar technology installed in a building requires an electrical system to move and control the energy produced safely, specifying the energy goals you are trying to achieve will dictate system sizing and electrical design.
Next, conduct research on potential solar power technologies that make the most sense for your building. Familiarize yourself with the types of equipment that will be required and what the industry trends and best practices are.
In the process, seek the advice of industry experts, whether a hired renewable energy consultant, electrical engineer, or a potential vendor.
At the same time, network with your peers. With solar being a code requirement in some states and widely adopted by many of the largest corporations in the U.S., someone in your network has likely been part of an onsite solar project.
Finally, collaborate with design professionals. If your building project is undergoing a renovation or you are part of a new construction project, engage with the architects, engineers, and consultants that are involved in the project. It is likely that they also have prior experience integrating onsite solar into past projects.
Collaborate with them during the planning and design phases to explore solar power options, evaluate the building’s suitability for solar installations, and ensure proper integration of solar technology within the design parameters.
If energy efficiency is part of the evaluation process, then start with an energy audit to get a comprehensive understanding of what energy improvements can and should be made to the building in order of priority. A total building approach will help you design the right-sized solar system based on the energy goals of the building.
Shining A Light On Solar
The potential of onsite solar power is vast and untapped in many commercial facilities. Its integration offers a powerful tool for facility executives, providing a pathway to significant energy cost savings, increased resilience, decreased carbon footprint, and operational longevity. As ESG practices continue to shape the future of corporate operations, onsite solar becomes an inevitable part of the conversation.
In a world that increasingly values sustainability, shifting towards renewable energy sources such as onsite solar is not only an environmentally conscious decision but a financially sound one. As facility executives, the choice to invest in onsite solar solutions propels us toward a more sustainable future.
Dunican is the Senior Vice President of Commercial Strategy at Ubiquitous Energy, the world leader in transparent solar window technology, where he leads commercial go-to-market efforts and partnerships. Dunican has spent the past decade working alongside organizations of all sizes as a project developer, helping them evaluate, execute and finance comprehensive solar and storage solutions across the U.S.