Avoid Being Sunburned by Utilities on Solar Panel Projects

Oct. 17, 2012
Many expectations come with solar energy projects, but it’s the unexpected that needs to be managed effectively.

Many expectations come with solar energy projects, but it’s the unexpected that needs to be managed effectively. That was one of the key takeaways from a solar panel installation at the main offices of Siggins, a design/build firm that specializes in distribution centers. The management of this site, located in North Kansas City, embarked on this project to achieve energy cost savings, to reduce environmental impact, and to achieve a revenue stream from selling electricity to the grid.

It was that last goal that delivered an important takeaway.

Siggins is among the first companies in the city to move toward solar energy, so it wasn’t the only party to whom this was a new experience. Siggins IT personnel developed a control panel user interface for the system that allows the company to monitor power output and verify that excess energy production is accounted for.

While the installation went well, the company encountered some issues with receiving credit for excess electricity produced by the panels and supplied back into the power grid. Grant Arnold, senior project engineer for Siggins, indicated that while the private contractors met all their required milestones, the electrical utility, KCP&L, was not as responsive.

“I think the utility did what they could to get us up and running within a reasonable amount of time, but after some weeks of operation it was discovered that they neglected to install the proper new meters to be able to keep track of what we were providing back to the grid,” he said. “I think that the idea of private parties supplying power back to the system for reuse, and being reimbursed to do so, is still a new enough idea that there is some unfamiliarity with the equipment specifics.”

Another important lesson for others embarking on solar panel projects has to do with the roof. The Siggins installation crew worked with the company that originally installed the company’s roof to avoid penetrations that would void the remaining warranty on the roof. And the entire installation was scheduled to minimize interruption to daily office or warehouse productivity.

Siggins is now receiving compensation from both KCP&L and the federal government, and reports it has reduced fixed costs while becoming more “Green.”

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