A Generation180 report released in 2020 found that 7,332 public and private K-12 schools in the United States had solar power. Seems like a lot, but that’s only 5.5% of schools across the country. Educational institutions are a segment of the commercial solar market ripe with opportunity.
In this episode of the Contractor’s Corner podcast, Solar Power World editor-in-chief Kelly Pickerel talks with the leadership at Sunrise Power Solutions, one company taking advantage of the open K-12 market. The Long Island-based company works with a lot of schools because, as CEO Heather Ingebrigtsen says, they’re the ideal customer. They usually have ample space for solar and the budgets to support energy projects.
A portion of the interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for even more insight, including how CFO Mike Ingebrigtsen explains the next installation market ready for takeoff: electric vehicle chargers. Pickerel is also joined by SPW senior editor Kelsey Misbrener to talk about Women’s History Month and representation in solar.
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Why do you focus on solar installations on K-12 schools?
Heather: We think that the K-12 market is the ideal customer because the energy service company (ESCO) is able to offer them no out-of-pocket expense, which is ideal for them because they don’t have to go to the taxpayer and say we need to raise taxes to do this project. They benefit by not having to lay out money, not having to ask for money or a loan to do this project, and then the community benefits because their taxes aren’t going up but yet they’re saving this money. The K-12 also has the added benefit that they have an ideal roof. As long as the roof is good and sturdy, it’s a good, ideal flat roof so they have plenty of space for the solar. They also have the option of carports or ground arrays and they have the land, where a residential or a commercial building may not have those ideal landscapes for solar.
Are you installing energy storage with your solar projects?
Mike: We’re not really installing storage and batteries. The breakpoint doesn’t benefit. We’re hoping as costs come down, that would be definitely something we’d look at in the future. As the utility switches from their conventional billing systems to time-of-use demand charges, at that time we’re able to start trying to add storage to the solar systems. The price point of the batteries right now…there are some rebates available on batteries, but it’s not enough to add into the energy savings portion of the contracts right now.
The other thing is the stigma of like when solar first came out: people didn’t like the way it looked on their roof. With batteries, everybody looks at a battery now and they think of that lead-acid battery that could leak or be harmful and where they can put all of these batteries. They don’t realize how far the technology has come. Once you start to get a little bit of movement on that, we see that taking off rather quickly.
Sunrise Power Solutions is a proud supporter of union workers. How can the solar industry better take advantage of this talent pool?
Heather: Being in a union is actually pretty ideal, because we have access to talented professional employees. If we’re working on a project and we need more help, they are able to supply it. In a traditional place, they would have to go through a hiring process and find certain people and they need to stay at that level of business all the time to keep the employees on board. We can [instead] approach projects on an individual need basis. Especially with all the COVID stuff that’s been going on, jobs have been held up getting the materials, even the different situations that the school might be going through. So for that, it’s ideal to be union.
Mike: The union’s a great asset to have because you know you’re getting trained professionals, you know they have already gone through the training program, some of them are in the apprenticeship program. You have a labor pool that is talented. The only downside — where I think the solar industry could actually help the union — is through the education process. I would definitely like to see more solar in the apprenticeship program, so that when you are doing a specialty like solar energy, you do have more people that are educated in solar specifics rather than just the general electric.