At a Glance
Solar-energy installation and development
In the not-too-distant future, according to Heshy Katz, 35–45 percent of workable commercial roofs in New Jersey will have solar-power installations. It’s an inspiring vision, such a dense hive of panels, and as the president and founder of GreenPower Developers, LLC in Howell, New Jersey, Katz can make such a projection on more than just wishful thinking.
His business is all about the financing and construction of photovoltaic arrays, connecting investors and lenders to companies with big roofs (unshaded and relatively flat, oriented to the sun) and the general contractors who know how to build them. Everyone involved gets an economic benefit while reducing fossil fuel consumption with renewable energy.
The market interest in solar energy is driven by a projected rise in the cost of electricity, and it’s helped along by federal and state incentives. “The biggest concern for most is the up-front, out-of-pocket cost of the solar-energy system,” says Katz, who has been in the industry since 2007. Some of the financing comes through traditional loans, but about half of Katz’s customers opt for purchase power agreements (PPAs), a creative means of allowing investors to own solar cells and ultimately make them profitable.
Under a PPA setup, the investors pay for the equipment, installation, and maintenance of a photovoltaic system. Once the panels are operational, the investors sell the electricity at below-market prices to the host-site company or organization, which is usually a commercial operation but can also be a hospital, a university, a governmental department, or another kind of nonprofit. The host gets favorable and predictable electricity pricing and the prestige that comes with using renewable power.
Top 5 Tools of Solar Array Installation used by GreenPower Developers
1. Solmetric design software and hardware. Because every location has unique energy-capture characteristics, the family of products from Solmetric, Inc. includes digital sensors and computer programs to measure shade and solar access.
2. Aerial imagery. Satellite photos, even from Google Earth, are a good preliminary tool to study a site’s solar potential.
3. Mounting Systems. Flexible ballasted systems securely hold solar panels on flat roofs without damaging roof membranes.
4. Solar modules. The photovoltaic cells are the heart of the array; they convert sunlight to electricity.
5. Solar inverters. These convert an array’s direct electrical current into an alternative current that fits the utility grid’s frequency.
The investors generate a cash flow that will continue after the installation reaches its ROI, which Katz says is between four and seven years in New Jersey thanks to a combination of federal- and state-sponsored incentives in the Garden State, the most densely populated of all 50 states. Massachusetts is establishing similar incentives, providing a growth opportunity for GreenPower Developers there as well.
The construction of a new array typically plays out in one of two different scenarios: A company with a large roof will contact GreenPower Developers, which then outlines the self-finance/own and PPA options. Afterward, Katz’s team evaluates the project location to identify the potential system size, what it will cost, and how much it will produce. Alternatively, a PPA investor might approach GreenPower Developers to have the firm find an optimal investment site or to report a site that might need a developer.
In both scenarios, GreenPower Developers files the necessary applications with the local utility, engages engineers in drawing up system plans, and identifies the general contractor. Depending on the size of the project—thus far, the range has been between 100 kilowatts and 1 megawatt—the installation can be operational within two weeks to two months after the first meeting. Among the providers of photovoltaic equipment to the firm are Allied Building Products and Eclipsall Energy.
Katz’s firm closely monitors several market variables, including the fluctuating prices of natural gas and solar panels as well as the politics of government incentive programs. “Ultimately, everyone is looking to save money,” he explains. “The solar guarantee is that you will never pay more than the utility grid is charging. Most businesses prefer predictable pricing.” ABQ