Ask and you shall receive!
Here in our own backyard, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, may have just activated a 1.2-MW (DC)/1-MW (AC) solar power system–said to be the largest PV installation of any U.S. transit facility and the biggest array to date within the City of Angels’ limits.
The public agency known as Metro has even grander solar ambitions. After providing more details about Metro’s earlier solar installations and the new multirooftop PV system designed and built by Chevron Energy Solutions (CES) near downtown L.A., Tim Lindholm, the agency’s director of capital projects, hopes to put out a request for proposal in a few months to find a design/integration/construction private partner to start building out yet another 2.3 MW or so of PV power at various Metro locations next year.
Although the ribbon cutting on the new PV installation took place in May, Lindholm said the arrays were actually turned on in early April.
Deployed on several hundred thousand square feet across most of the Metro Support Services Center’s rooftops, the fixed, free-standing, nonpenetrating system consists of 6720SolarWorld SW 175 monocrystalline-silicon modules (which were manufactured at the company’s Camarillo, CA, panel factory, something that makes Lindholm “really happy”), four Satcon inverters (one 500 KW, two 225 KW, and one 100 KW), and SunLink racking (except for one roof), according to details provided by Chevron’s Ram Ambatipudi via email.
The system, which is expected to generate 1,450,000 KW-hr of solar-spawned electricity, is monitored by CES’s own proprietary Utility Vision system.
Lindholm said it took about a year from issuing the “notice to proceed” to completing the project, with panels beginning to go up on the rooftops by May 2008. Most of the roof surfaces were fairly routine to prep for the installation, with the exception of one of the oldest (and biggest) structures, which was substandard (“ramshackle” was Lindholm’s term) and had to be completely reroofed before any solar could be put on it.
Although the solar arrays are certainly “the cherry on top,” the Metro director notes that even more substantial energy efficiencies were achieved by redesigning the air compression loop, replacing old lightbulbs, and generally putting the buildings through total retrofits.
“The solar panels are the piece of the project that gets people talking, that gets you the PR, that’s the visual, compelling, sustainable thing that people see,” he said. “But the background details, such as taking care of the basics in your shop environment, changing out the lightbulbs, that’s the kind of stuff that pays back as well. We kind of missed the boat on that on our first few projects, and now with every single solar project that we do we’re going to bundle them together.”
The combination of the energy efficiency moves and the PV power pop should cut the facility’s power bill in half–from about $1.1 million to $550,000–with some three-quarters of those savings attributable to the efficiency efforts, according to Lindholm.
The new PV systems bring the total amount of solar power deployed by Metro since 2006 to more than 2 MW. A pair of 213-KW systems have been supplying renewable juice to a couple of bus divisions in the San Fernando Valley for a few years, while a 417-KW array resides mostly atop carport shade structures in Carson, Lindholm explained. All three of the existing installations employ Schott Solar panels.
After going through a learning period where he admits “we weren’t Johnny on the spot as a new solar panel owner,” he hired a dedicated employee–who Lindholm has nicknamed “Solar Man”–to be in charge of the quarterly module cleaning, inverter maintenance, and daily systems monitoring.
Lindholm just raves about the advantages of the public-private partnership approach taken by Metro and its solar partner, CES. “I will never do another solar project without it,” he said. In addition to overseeing the system for the long term, CES guarantees the energy savings and the amount of energy generated by the PV system for 10 years, and “if they don’t, they’re gonna pay me.”
“We were able to negotiate that with Chevron, and they’re comfortable with it,” he continued. “We need to comply with their strict maintenance plan in order to stay in the guarantee. We think that’s a good thing too since it pretty much took most of our risk off the table and guarantees our returns.”
Metro’s latest PV project also benefited from a healthy dollop of incentives, mostly from the L.A. Department of Water and Power–something that was also part of Chevron’s guarantee. In fact, the CES folks “chased down” the rebates, “shaking trees” to get an extra $1 million above and beyond the contracted $5.3 million–an cash windfall split 50:50 by the two partners, according to Lindholm. As a result of the money-tree shaking, the $16.5 million project–which was financed by Bank of America–came in at closer to $10 million.
So what’s next for Metro’s photovoltaic expansion? A project featuring some 2.3 MW of PV installations that will be “designed to show the different applications that you can do in a transit environment,” Lindholm explained.
The six sites he envisions include carport shade structures on top of a parking garage next to the Gold Line train station in Pasadena; a quarter-mile of solar-integrated soundwalls as part of the expansion of the 405 Freeway; sizeable arrays at the Red Line subway maintenance yard in downtown L.A. (the biggest single system of the six planned) and Metro’s light-rail maintenance yard in Hawthorne; a system at a bus division in Cypress Park; and a different kind of installation as part of a new bus division downtown, which will use “PV as part of the architecture, on kind of a louvered screen on one edge of the project.”
Lindholm “would like to get a request for proposal out and ready for competition by late summer,” then pick a partner and start negotiation. That partner must be “willing to do these six sites at the same time, and go and get us some incentives and rebates, build the projects, and guarantee the savings and power generated, just like we did on the Chevron deal.”
He estimates that from the time he puts out the RFP to the time that he’s “awarding the contract and getting ready to go” should be about five months, or roughly late 2009 or early 2010. Lindholm expects to capitalize on the federal stimulus package offerings for such projects. He believes they can “wrangle up about 37% of the cost in rebates and incentives” locally, so Metro would end up asking the Feds to “pitch in 67%, which is pretty attractive to them.”
Just in case those recovery act funds don’t flow as expected for the new project, the Metro director also wants to require whichever solar integrator signs up with the agency to bring along “a strong financial partner” as well.
“We’re going bigger,” Lindholm beamed. “We’ve got a bit of a pattern already where we like to double what we’ve done every project. We’d like to keep that going.”
Credits: PV-Tech.org, Tom Cheney