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In the water/wastewater industry, much emphasis has been placed recently on energy efficiency, as energy costs are rising for plants around the country. Converting to renewable energy may be the last thing on plant managers’ minds right now, but Kevin Ross, project manager for SunPower Corp., a global solar energy provider, talked with WWD Managing Editor Clare Pierson about why water agencies should make it a priority.
Clare Pierson: Why is solar power important for water plants and agencies to consider?
Kevin Ross: Electricity is typically the single biggest portion of a utility’s operating budget. As we all know, these costs in particular are going up and escalating—in some regions, very quickly—and that has a huge impact on these operating plants who would prefer to not have to pass those costs on to ratepayers.
Secondly, the carbon-offset legislation in California and other pieces of similar legislation around the country are going to impact all of us, but definitely these water plants. Many are realizing they should have a strategy in place to mitigate these compliances. And so a solar system on site addresses not only cost, but also allows them to take advantage of renewable energy credits that come with it.
Pierson: What would you say to water utilities that are interested in solar power, but perhaps have more timely needs, such as repairing infrastructure?
Ross: First, I would say they should utilize their site to have the least amount of impact on their operation. One benefit of SunPower technology is that it has a high efficiency in energy per square foot; this is good for space-constrained situations.
Secondly, we provide financing options. SunPower offers a number of different methods for water agencies to acquire a system. One of the ways that is quite popular is a power-purchase agreement (PPA). A PPA directly addresses utilities that have no capital dollars because they’re converting to ozone or something else. The structure of a PPA is that SunPower becomes not only the designer and builder, but also the owner and operator. The water agency then purchases only the energy the system produces, on an hourly basis. A monthly bill comes in the mail just like other bills. That way no capital requirement is required— it just comes out of their operating budget.
Pierson: What have been some of SunPower’s notable water agency installations so far?
Ross: We are just finishing up a project in southern California, the Inland Empire utility agency in Chino, Calif. They have a number of operating sites, and they chose to hire us to put solar in four of their plants, for a total of 3.5 megawatts (MW). Expected savings for the first year for their combined sites is $200,000.
We also completed a 3.1-MW implementation at the Las Vegas Valley Water District, a six-site project. They estimate to be able to reduce CO2 emissions by 38,000 lb over the next 30 years.
Pierson: The “green” industry has been making a big splash lately and certainly solar power is a part of that, but is the faltering economy affecting your business at all?
Ross: Financial conditions are putting pressure on everybody. One of the benefits that SunPower has is we have a massive amount of experience. We’ve put around 500 systems in the ground, representing 400 MW total around the globe. That speaks to our scale, our vertical integration, the fact that we operate in numerous markets and offer not only distribution but actual design-build-operate, turnkey systems. We are very well differentiated and diversified and continue to see a strong interest from customers.
The sales cycle is getting longer, certainly, which it is for everybody. The saving-money aspect drives interest, and we are constantly seeing people wanting to get educated about solar power. The future looks very good for us, relative to that pipeline of interest that exists.
Kevin Ross is a project development manager for SunPower Corp. Ross can be reached at 949.581.6022 or by e-mail at [email protected].