Volume 45, Issue 7 - July 2010

feature
Celebrating the Sun
J.E. Berkowitz Inaugurates New Rooftop Solar System
by Megan Headley

 

Tips for Solar Installation
Arthur Berkowitz, president of J.E. Berkowitz LP, has a few pieces of advice to offer other companies considering solar power based upon his recent experience:
*Know your consumption of electric.
* Learn about your state’s S-RECs.
*Evaluate your bank. “You have to understand that the banks in United States are not particularly knowledgeable in solar financing—it’s a new market to them,” Berkowitz said.
* Consider your location. “We did a study based on a 30-year history of weather patterns,” Berkowitz said. “It says we can expect about 185 days of sun per year.”
* Consider your facility and roof. “Remember you’re putting a huge amount of weight on the roof,” Berkowitz said. While JEB’s building, erected just three years ago, was prepared for the load, he noted, “A lot of people get into this with older buildings and they spend as much money reinforcing the roof as the actual installation.”


Berkowitz LP (JEB) hosted a ceremony June 23 at its facility in Pedricktown, N.J., celebrating the full start-up of its new 7,200-panel rooftop solar array. The panels cover the expanse of the company’s 180,000-square-foot plant roof and are expected to produce more than 2 million kW hours of electricity per year and save approximately 25 percent of the manufacturing plant’s electric power expense annually.

In an exclusive interview with USGlass, JEB president Arthur Berkowitz explained that the concept began in 2009. The company took into consideration the federal government’s American Recovery Act program (ARRA), which provides a 30-percent grant within 90 days of commissioning the solar installation, as well as the State of New Jersey solar renewal energy certificates (S-RECs) program when deciding to undertake the more than $7 million project.

“Given the fact that we’re a huge user of power, the state of New Jersey has very attractive SRECs and the ARRA had this grant, we began to do a study—we hired a consultant, began to interview a series of contractors and looked at two approaches to be in the solar business,” Berkowitz said.

Those approaches include using a power purchase agreement (PPA), or essentially leasing the system. “It’s attractive if you don’t have the financing to do it, but ultimately the payback is not there,” Berkowitz said. Instead JEB purchased their system, an option, he added, that “has a much more aggressive payback.”

 

Concept to Completion
After an extensive interview process, the company went with Ray Angelini Inc. (RAI), a contractor based in New Jersey that has tackled some of the state’s larger solar installations. “We felt comfortable that he had the resources and the wherewithal,” Berkowitz said. “Ultimately we buy the panel and we would buy the inverters, and they’re pretty much a given—it’s all about the installation. You don’t want to go with someone who’s learning the process.” Part of the importance JEB placed on having an experienced installer came down to the fact that RAI is responsible for maintenance of the panels throughout the life of the building.

RAI elected to use solar panels manufactured by Sharp Corp., which has manufacturing facilities in Memphis, Tenn.

“We felt that since the funding is coming from the federal government and the state of New Jersey, if this panel is efficient and if the cost was competitive, then [a U.S.-made panel] is the route we wanted to go,” Berkowitz said.

Once permitting and engineering studies had been completed, site work began on January 22, 2010. JEB operated as usual during the installation. “There were a couple weekends where we had to shut off all our power while they were doing hook-ups, but there was zero impact on our operations,” Berkowitz said. Despite delays that included record-breaking snowstorms and hurdles thrown out by the electric company, the company completed the installation on April 16.

That last hurdle, Berkowitz explained, was an additional study requested by the electric company as the installation neared completion. “This is such a large install that the power company was concerned about the impact of this amount of power being sent back to the grid,” Berkowitz said. “They were used to people with small homes or stores that had 20 to 30 panels on them. This is a 1.7 mW system.”

Although the study delayed the full energizing of the system by several weeks, it ultimately showed that the inverters and system would have no detrimental effect on the local utilities. On May 20 all eight inverters were fully energized.

 

Ongoing Initiatives
The installation of solar panels is part of an ongoing environmental program for the company. Now that the solar array is on, the company is considering its next steps in green manufacturing. “We’ve looked at co-generation, but did not go forward at this point,” Berkowitz says. “We could do so somewhere in the future.”

George Smith, who acted as project manager on the solar installation and leads other green initiatives, explained, “We put in skylights in the plant to get natural daylight during our main shift. We also put in a daylight harvesting system, which operates the lighting—T5 fixtures that are in themselves energy-saving—out in the plant. Daylight harvesting takes the light from the skylights and the side windows into consideration into how many tubes within the light fixtures really need to be on.”

The company also has added a reverse osmosis system for efficient water treatment in the facility, as well as actions such as recycling in the office and using green cleaning materials.

Is more solar in the future for JEB? Berkowitz says the company may look to further power its facility by the sun—but won’t be commercializing its own systems anytime soon.

“We’ve looked at building integrated photovoltaics, and it’s got some years to go,” he says. “There’s just no payback on it, it’s wildly expensive and it’s limited to the amount of surface area where you can use it. We don’t see it as a business opportunity. This was really an asset for our facility to lower energy costs.”

 

Megan Headley is the editor of USGlass.

 


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