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5 Tips for Installing Solar at Multiple Sites
BY Dan O’Brien, Vice President, Direct Origination, DSD
Installing a solar array at one location can be a fairly straightforward process. But if you’re looking to install PV systems at multiple locations, especially if those facilities are in different states, there’s a lot to consider. Working with an experienced commercial solar partner is critical. So is asking the right questions — so you can arrive at the ideal solution for your organization.
To that end, here are five important components to consider when installing solar in multiple sites across the US:
1. Define Your Goals
The best way to start is to clearly define your organization’s renewable energy goals. Are you looking to reduce your operation expenses? Does your organization have aggressive environmental goals to achieve? Likely, you’re pursuing some combination of these two goals, along with some others (possibly). Once they’re put into clear focus, everything else becomes easier to tackle. Add a strong partner to the mix, and you can align all your needs in one solution.
2. Analyze Local and Federal Incentives Available
Next, it’s time to analyze the states in which your facilities are located. This will allow you to maximize all the available incentives in those states, including tax benefits, net metering, rebates, and more.
By combining multiple projects in one commercial solar energy portfolio, you can benefit from the economics of scale and aggregate the value from various projects with different incentive structures which can result in greater savings than having individual deals for each site.
3. Understand Your Real Estate Limitations
Another important consideration are any potential limitations you have based on the site of the facility or real estate ownership- but just because you have limitations doesn’t mean solar is off the table. For example, community solar allows members to receive solar energy from an off-site PV system; this can be an ideal way for organizations that don’t have the ability to install on-site to harness solar.
4. Think About Site Configuration
When deciding on potential solar installations for your site, a good partner can help you make decisions that suit your facilities’ energy profile and needs. The right partner with an in-house design and engineering team will help your organization determine which solar configuration (ground mount, roof, or parking) works best for your company. Solar canopy structures, for example, can bring more than just shade and solar production benefits to your organization.
Additional canopy functions — like lighting, snow/water management, and more — should be explored during the planning phase of your project.
For roof structures, it is crucial to analyze the size, age and quality of the roof, to determine if any re-roofing plans will be needed.
If you have unused land areas near your facility, ground mount might be a solution that fits your needs. A great advantage of a ground mount solar installation is that they have more design flexibility for optimal production (as opposed to a roof, which is limited to its own direction, pitch and obstructions).
5. Review Financing Options
Finally, it’s important to consider at all your financing options.
The most common is a solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). With a PPA, the project developer takes care of the design, permitting, financing, installation, and long-term operation and maintenance of an on-site project. There is no upfront cost to the customer; it’s a pay-as-you-go framework. The customer gets the benefits of clean solar energy at a low, predetermined rate, and without the complexity of installing the project or maintaining it on a day-to-day basis.
PV systems can also be paid for upfront, known as cash or direct purchase. This can be beneficial to certain companies, but it does require a separate operation and maintenance agreement.
The aforementioned community solar is another option, which can be leveraged in several ways. If you build solar on your site, your organization can earn revenue from leasing that area for solar, while subscribing to receive a portion of the benefits of the energy produced on-site. The remaining energy is sent back to the grid to be distributed to the local business and the surrounding community.
Your organization can also subscribe to be an off-taker of a community solar installation from an off-site location. This is a great option to consider if your facility is not suitable for solar, or if you have smaller facilities distributed across multiple locations in the same area. The cost for community solar is always cheaper than the utility guaranteeing that your organization will continue to save on energy cost when subscribed to a project.
The bottom line is: There are a lot of factors to consider when building solar solutions across multiple facilities in different states. These five components are a great place to start … but working with a knowledgeable and helpful renewable energy partner is key to a successful portfolio.
Check out this follow-up piece, where we outline five things to look for in a multi-site commercial solar partner.
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Ready to dig deeper?
Reach out to a DSD team member for answers to all your multi-location solar questions.