Keeping the lights on during grid outages is no new concept to Independent Power Systems (No. 180 on the 2019 Top Solar Contractors list) — the Boulder, Colorado-based company has a longstanding relationship with battery and solar technologies. Employees say that combination puts IPS in a league of its own in the market of resiliency.
“That expertise in off-grid is really such a theme throughout our business because that’s really where we have come from,” said Hannah Capshaw, microgrid consultant at IPS.
After stints at IBM and SunWize Energy, Tony Boniface fell in love with solar technology. He founded IPS in Montana in 1996, where solar incentives were available at the time. The company was an early adopter of solar and microgrid solutions in the state.
“With that knowledge that Tony has with those systems, that’s just brought us to where we are today and influences every project that we worked on,” Capshaw said.
During the last two decades, Boniface opened new IPS branches in Colorado and Massachusetts, following newly enacted incentives.
Near its current Colorado headquarters, IPS serves a clientele of homes and businesses that experience unexpected power outages due to extreme weather events, like the Boulder flood of 2013. The company has worked to educate residents in this area about how microgrids can help them keep the lights on.
“Most people don’t know that even if you have solar, if the grid goes out, you’ll lose power too,” Capshaw said. “Different types of technologies coupled with batteries can help you stay online during the event of a power outage, which can be anything from a weather event or just a simple interruption. Businesses can lose 18% of revenue during one hour of a power outage, so that becomes pretty important to the resiliency of the business.”
While IPS’s regional work is a perfect test pool for resiliency projects, the company has sent its electricians across the globe to assist with projects. Domestically, IPS works in residential, commercial and military markets, mostly near its branches. But one of its remarkable subcontracting projects from 2018 was a refurbished solar array at Xanterra’s Oasis at Death Valley resort in California.
The resort is 15 miles from Badwater Basin, the lowest point of elevation in North America at -282 ft, and the region is known for intense, record-setting heat. IPS was brought on to assess the existing solar system powering the resort, which was initially 1.2 MW. The team replaced the existing panels with SunPower modules and mounted them on preexisting racking. After the rework, the solar project rose to 2 MW of output.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, IPS also installed a 55-kW solar-plus-storage microgrid for the Trail Ridge Store operated by Xanterra at Rocky Mountain National Park last year at an elevation of 11,798 ft. The company added storage to the system and kept the batteries safe from extreme temperatures in a proprietary, modified shipping container. The system is designed to endure alpine weather conditions and shift the facility’s dependence on diesel fuel to solar, only switching back in periods of low sunlight.
“There’s a lot of definitions for microgrid,” said Ben Valley, sales manager at IPS. “There’s a lot of companies that started in the ’90s around these technologies. Not a lot of them are still around, but our expertise is really in taking the latest technologies and implementing them for complex projects.”
This story was featured exclusively in our 2019 Top Solar Contractors issue. See the issue and full list of top U.S. solar installers here.