Contractors Corner: Moss has utility-scale solar zipped up

 

With more than 500 employees across the United States and the Caribbean, Moss is an established construction player in many large markets. Founded in 2004, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-headquartered company has experience in building stadiums, universities, airports, high-rises and, since 2009, solar. Moss has since been involved with 1.6 GW of utility-scale solar projects in the United States and Canada. Not bad for a company that wasn’t even looking to get into the green industry.

Moss worked on Hawaii’s largest solar farm, a 27.6-MW project in Waianae

“We got a phone call one day from a client who we had relationships with building other types of facilities,” said Edwin Perkins, director of solar initiatives with Moss. “They had another EPC that was falling behind schedule. [They] knew of our success as a builder, and they saw us as a good fit for the solar market. Our success has been our ability to resolve challenge, mitigate risk and exceed our clients’ expectations every step of the way.”

This initial 25-MW project got Moss hooked on solar, and the company now works as a general contractor for other EPCs as well as self-performing its own EPC work on certain projects. Moss has found success in solar by bringing over streamlined construction techniques from the original contracting business.

“We saw very quickly that there was a need in the solar market at that time for construction companies to find innovative ways to build these plants,” Perkins said. “Whether we’re doing a 50-story high-rise or a 500-room hotel, our approach is to really optimize logistics, sequencing every step of the way. Utility-scale solar projects is the same approach. It’s all a repetitive process and you have to maximize the efficiencies in the field to be successful.”

Moss has defaulted to working in large-scale solar (anything 5 MW or larger), but Perkins said the company is interested in taking on more large commercial installs. Construction efficiency is easier to establish on larger projects.

A Moss employee using laser alignment in the field

“To efficiently construct utility-scale projects, it requires more of a process approach instead of a task approach,” Perkins said. “A task approach is when you muscle your way through construction, hoping you meet the project schedule. That approach mostly leads to bad quality control and projects being overbudget. Instead, we do a process approach. We evaluate, innovative and optimize every step, every activity, every tool, every piece of equipment. You basically create an assembly line in the field.”

Moss uses GPS-enabled pile drivers to speed up installation and laser levels to minimize man-power and maximize productivity, as well as other building techniques it’s picked up from other construction industries.

“Moss is a construction company with a lot of very good, talented builders,” Perkins said. “We’ve leveraged the experience across multiple markets that we serve and created this amazing team that really understands how to build, how to create these innovative solutions to drive down the cost of solar in our installations.”

This company-wide success has enabled Moss to open offices outside of Florida and into California, Hawaii, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The whole team is dedicated to each community it serves.

A North Carolina project

“We don’t just build buildings. We build communities and we build relationships,” Perkins said. “At Moss, giving back to the communities we build in is an integral part of how we do business.”

The non-profit Moss Foundation supports schools, troubled youth, the homeless and other special interest groups. In April, the organization donated $10 million to Florida International University’s College of Engineering & Computing (which will be renamed the Moss School of Construction, Infrastructure and Sustainability). Perkins said this donation is important to Moss not only because FIU is a construction client, but also because Moss recruits workers from the engineering college. This widespread commitment to community development keeps Moss a recognizable construction name throughout the country.

A good reputation is helpful as utility-scale solar begins to enter new markets. Perkins said it’s encouraging to see more large projects lining up in states like Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

“We’re excited about what the next few years have for solar, because we’re starting to see not just California, but many states have utility-scale solar programs,” he said.

Moss will also continue to use its larger building presence to marry many sides of the business. Universities and hotels Moss is constructing might be interested in also installing solar.

“As solar continues to drive down, it starts to make financial sense for these companies to do solar,” Perkins said. “We do a lot of LEED projects, so having that solar component is just another feather in the cap to the sustainable building that we do.”

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