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U.S. Midwest: Solar Thriving in the Snow Belt

It is no secret that sunny California and Arizona have led America into the age of solar energy. The Southwest gets more sunshine than any other U.S. region. Further, the growth of technology on both the West and East coasts has helped spur innovation in the solar industry. What about the sandwiched American Midwest, where more than half the days are cloudy and where long winters pile snow high on buildings and homes? Fact: Solar is thriving in the Snow Belt, too.


BY TJ Kanczuzewski





Projects incorporating solar energy are increasing in government buildings, residential homes and commercial enterprises. Tax incentives, the public? embrace of green initiatives and the eco-friendly Democratic Party juggernaut in Washington D.C. are responsible. So is Inovateus Solar, one of the leading distributors of cutting-edge energy products based in the heart of the Midwest in South Bend, Indiana, the U.S.A. Since forming in 2004, the company has supplied products for multi-megawatt projects in Spain and has worked on large-scale enterprises in Europe and India. The growing number of global inquiries includes technical requests from Asia to off-grid Africa. Already one of the major North American integrators, the company has helped with projects in the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico and throughout the U.S.

During the past few months, the company has become one of the stars in its own backyard thanks in large part to state incentives. For example, recent Inovateus-led installations in Muskegon, Michigan, and South Bend are the largest solar projects to date in those respective states. From restoring aging barns in Wisconsin, to supplying materials for a ground-mounted solar array in Ohio, the company is helping to solve energy problems while generating net metering profits for its clients.


Indiana: LEED Platinum Certification


A 100 kW solar project underway in South Bend is the largest initiative of its kind in Indiana. It also has the potential to become the U.S. first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum-certified transportation building. The company is supplying Uni-Solar PV roofing material for the US$514,000 project. Uni-Solar thin-film panels will cover 17,000 square feet on the roof of Transpo’s new operations, administration and maintenance facility. It replaces a building more than 100 years old, and it is helping position Transpo to introduce alternative-fueled busses next year.

J.P. Von Rahl, Inovateus Sales/Project Manager, said the solar energy source is an important component for the general contractor? efforts to achieve LEED Platinum certification.

“The design team has put together a very attractive structure,” added John Callan, Project Manager for The Robert Henry Corporation, the general contractor. “It’s going to be a lot more functional.” In his first experience with PV materials, Callan found the Uni-Solar panels surprisingly easy to manage, requiring no special preparation. “That’s the beauty of their system,” he explained. “It’s easily incorporated after the roof membrane is installed. And it appears to be highly suitable for retrofit situations.”

The electrical contractor responsible for wiring the equipment was also impressed with the PV material. “For the voltage, I think it is very innovative,” said electrician Chuck Hendricks, who brought 25 years of experience to the project. “It’s a nifty system,” he observed, “a flexible mat of photo cells that are very efficient in this low-light climate.”


Ohio: Getting Grounded


The Dayton Power and Light Company (DP&L) recently completed installation of a 1.2 MW ground-mounted solar array in Southwest Ohio. The US$5 million project, comprising nearly 9,000 solar panels constructed over seven acres, will generate enough electricity to power 150 homes. It is one of the state’s largest solar projects to date.

As the solar integrator, the company coordinated the work of four local companies to build the array in record time last winter when Dayton received unprecedented snowfall. “Using a local installer and general contractor was very important to our client,” said Peter Rienks, Engineer/Project Manager for the company.

Joseph Jancauskas, DP&L manager, agreed. “Although it is not well known, there is plenty of local talent to do solar work in our area,” he said. “You don’t have to go to California or Europe to find the necessary skills.”

The company chose Sharp’s new Utility Scale Thin Film Solar Panels with Schletter racking from Germany and two Xantrex GT500 inverters for the installation. The project includes a hands-on interactive educational solar kiosk to help students and other visitors learn about solar power and its impact on the environment.

The site location was a former farm field used to grow soybeans. The project, which began in early November and was turned on by January 24, ran into problems with frozen ground that often grew extremely muddy as the installation progressed. Schletter came to the rescue with a precision pile driver to pound support posts into the ground.


Michigan: Making A Market


Recycling and other environment-friendly practices at Torresen Marine Facility, a family-owned fixture on Lake Michigan in Muskegon, earned the marina one of Michigan’s first Certified Clean Business standards. Because of Torresen’s clean-and-green reputation, Chart House Energy, a renewable Independent Power Producer (IPP), approached the owners with a plan to install a solar power array atop the marina’s 28,000 square-foot sailboat storage facility. The goal was to reduce Torresen’s energy costs and provide income from leftover power. Once Torresen agreed to the plan, Chart House Energy called on the company to supply the expertise and materials.

Because the City of Muskegon lies along the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan, it receives the 45-mile fetch of prevailing west winds. In winter, those winds can dump two feet or more of snow during a single storm. The company specified 750 Scheuten Solar USA panels for the 150 kW project, the first American application of Scheuten Solar technology. The front-side load of the Scheuten panels has the equivalent of 110 pounds per square foot and rely on 4.0 mm glass, which is 25% thicker than the industry standard of 3.2 mm.

“High humidity, low sun hours and dramatic wind uplift helped dictate our choice of Scheuten,” said Nathan Vogel, a Sales/Project Manager at Inovateus. “Their high-quality modules are a great application for solar power in the harsh environment of snow, ice and high winds.”

Vogel explained that a large percentage of the more than 1 GW of Scheuten Solar panels installed to date in Europe have been projects in Germany, which receives less sunlight than the typical Midwest city. ?”Scheuten was the right choice for this project,” he said.

Federal stimulus money and a feed-in tariff program from Consumers Energy, which provides electricity to the region, sparked the US$740,000 project to produce winners all around. It is a big hit with Torresen Marine’s sailboat customers, who are very environmentally friendly. Further, the new system offsets the power of the Torresen facility by 30%, enough equivalent energy to service 20 Muskegon-area homes.


A Grand Plan


In addition to installing the solar panels on a 136,000 square-foot athletic facility at Grand Valley State University in Southern Michigan, the company is monitoring two other environmentally-friendly features in the LEED Gold-certified building. The company collects data from the PV roof tiles, a geothermal system and a solar thermal wall for preheating exchange air. The data are used both for academic analysis and for education of lay people who discover the benefits of the systems in a kiosk or on a website.

The facility, which opened last year, has an artificial-turf football practice field surrounded by a 300-meter track. It is used for practice, intramural sports, recreation and a movement science course at the school. The monitoring is a value-added service from the company, said Bob Rupholdt, company director of operations. Earlier, Grand Valley had worked with the company to provide Uni-Solar on the curved roof of another building.

“The university is using the PV we installed on the new roof to generate electricity,” Rupholdt said. “Technically, the excess power would go back to the grid except this new building utilizes all the energy it creates.”


Wisconsin: Saving Barns while Net Metering


Modern PV solar tiles are saving historic Midwest working barns while providing broad, clear, angled space for power generation. Chicago resident Bob Rafson recently formed Rural Renewable Energy to focus on preserving the barns by installing new roofs that can turn a power profit to boot. The first project, already underway in Wisconsin, has received grant support from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the State of Wisconsin, and the federal renewable energy tax credit.

As a leading distributor of cutting-edge energy products, the company supplies Rafson with solar panels that can either be thin film integrated into metal roofs or crystalline mounted just over the roof. With some 450,000 historic barns across the U.S. (including 35,000 in Illinois alone), the initiative offers a unique opportunity to blend a business with historic restoration. When barns go unused or are neglected for years, roofs are typically the first to fail.

For the Wisconsin project, Rafson mounted PV panels on a new standing, seam metal roof that covered nearly 2,000 square feet. The new roof made the structure straight, sound and waterproof for years to come. By incorporating solar into the project, Rafson demonstrated how the excess energy generated flows into the Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) grid. Because WPS has accepted the project for its pilot feed-in tariff program--PG Solar--the utility will send Rural Renewable Energy a check.

“saving barns with sun power is a wide-open field,” Rafson said. “In general, farms are stable businesses that have been around for a long time with stable owners that are often undercapitalized. This creates an opportunity for a company like mine to help a farmer pay for some or all of a new barn roof and turn a profit while meeting his own energy needs for free.”

Rafson said he is actively looking for hundred-year-old barns in relatively good condition with south-facing roofs. ”Who knows?” he added. “Maybe in another hundred years, surviving barns will be those with east-west orientation and power-generating roofs.”


Taking Advantage of a Down Economy


Whenever the economy worsens, forward-thinking employees who are newly laid-off from work seize the opportunity for more education or new training. Companies with an eye to the future also find ways to take advantage. During the recent American economic downturn, the company went hunting. The goal was to find and then forge partnerships with best-in-kind companies, large and small, to help incorporate solar into their building projects. As a result, the company recently announced alliances with two specialty roof manufacturers. IB Roof Systems in Oregon makes innovative membrane-roof materials; McElroy Metal in Louisiana produces metal roofs from mostly recycled materials. Both companies have a national network of certified roofing contractors.

In addition to Scheuten Solar and Uni-Solar, the company has pursued other solar module and inverter manufacturers whose cutting-edge products the company now distributes.


Bright Future


The American Midwest has withstood the worst of U.S. manufacturing losses in the past decade. Many surviving companies have learned to consolidate and downsize, to cut costs and be more productive, and to evolve. A book by George Howard, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, accurately predicts that businesses will take the lead in adopting alternative energy. The Greening of Business: Solar as a Bridge to our Hydrogen Electricity Future suggests that new policies, including state and federal tax incentives, will lead to rapid expansion in the field.

It is already happening. Last year, for example, Congress passed an extension of federal tax credits for alternative energy that distinguishes between solar and other alternative energies. “In the past, they lumped everything together,” Professor Howard says in his book. “It’s Congress’ statement that they think solar is the future.”

“We’ve been able to become a part of the growth of renewable energy where it has taken off in other American states and in other parts of the world,” said the company’s Executive Director, T.J. Kanczuzewski. His father, Tom Kanczuzewski and Professor Howard worked with Stan Ovshinsky, the inventor of Uni-Solar amorphous silicon PV material. At the time, T.J. worked for a large property management company, whose responsibilities included more than 200 large American shopping centers.

“It really started to hit me how much we Americans consume,” the younger Kanczuzewski said, and how many of these big buildings we have and what impact that has on the environment.”Leaving the property management business in 2007, Kanczuzewski joined Inovateus, ”where there are no boundaries and where we hope to make a difference in the world.”

That difference is being keenly felt in the American Midwest.


T.J. Kanczuzewski is Executive Vice President at Inovateus Solar, responsible for the management of company sales and overall operations (http://www.inovateussolar.com/).



For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

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