Solar Energy Takes Off

Solar Energy Takes Off

By Patty Kovacevich

Hangar 2 at Jet Source’s new business aviation center at McClellan-Palomar Airport shows a streamlined look.

Hangar 2 at Jet Source’s new business aviation center at McClellan-Palomar Airport shows a streamlined look.

Nestled in the heart of San Diego’s north county coastal area at Palomar-McClellan Airport in Carlsbad, Calif., is the newly renovated fixed base operation and business aviation facility, Jet Source. Another bright and unusual note is it’s all operating under the sun: Mother Nature’s smile, Solar Energy.

This 120,000-square-foot FBO costs little or nothing to run for electrical power, requires minimal to no maintenance for electrical energy, produces no pollution and is a center of attention for the aviation and social community of Carlsbad. Jet Source’s renovation included upgraded interior and exterior improved lighting in the parking lots and taxiways, as well as all general lighting throughout the property for better efficiency, quality, color and security.

“It’s the only 100 percent solar-efficient aviation FBO in California, and to my knowledge the only 100 percent solar-energy efficient FBO in the country,” says Frank Milian, Jet Source chief operating officer and president.

Milian was instrumental in the prudent business decision to take Jet Source solar; sound business solutions, rebates, respect of the environment, and solid community concern were his primary reasons.

“The solar systems are producing enough ‘juice’ to power the equivalent of about 200 homes per year and saving Jet Source around $60,000 annually right away,” proclaims Milian.

The switch was flipped on the 174 kW (DC) and 142 kW (DC) solar power systems, using over 4,800 photovoltaic panel modules manufactured by Shell Solar Industries of Camarillo, Calif. The photovoltaic panels are secured on the roofs of Jet Source Hangar’s 2 and 4, and generate around 450,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, making it a perfect choice for the high-consumption corridor of Jet Source.

Exactly what is a photovoltaic solar panel? It’s simply a grouping of panels that contain many palm-sized cells installed on a building roof and powered by the sun. The grid-tied system consists of numerous rows of these silicon-protected solar panels on the hangar roofs. The panels collect and convert sunlight into DC power. This is then changed into useable AC power by large inverters and fed back into the electrical grid during the day. At night, needed electrical energy is drawn back from the grid to serve nighttime distribution needs.

This “clean energy” generated by the new system means that Jet Source will be using very little power derived from fossil fuels, helping to preserve the environment and eliminating the production of greenhouse gasses. How much in green house gases? To be exact, 27 tons of SO2, 19 tons of NO2, and 6,000 tons of CO2, all of which would have been generated by the use of fossil fuels.

Solar produces the clean energy at the exact location where it’s being used, during the peak workday hours of need. In addition, Jet Source isn’t paying the high distribution cost of electricity charged by public utilities.

“We were 100 percent confident from the beginning that we could create the first turnkey solar system for aviation and began working on the Jet Source benchmark project in June 2004, with completion right on schedule for June 2005,” says Jim Pierrat, owner and CEO of SoCal Solar Energy, Inc.

After 30 years’ experience and a solid reputation as an electrical engineer, Pierrat went into the marketing and installation of high-tech solar PV photovoltaic system solutions just over three years ago to form SoCal Solar Energy.

Pierrat is a certified energy manager and a member of the Association of Energy Engineers and the Association of California Conservation Contractors, as well as an approved contractor by the League of California Homeowners. He has the handle on solar technology and business applications for it; that was critical in Jet Source’s careful selection of the best solar company for the project.

“Aviation facilities are perfect for solar. They have the large square roof footage and most existing hangar roofs can easily tolerate the weight of the panels, which can supply 100 percent of the company’s electrical consumption,” assures Pierrat.

The California Energy Commission and the Los Angles Department of Water Power certify SoCal as an installer, with specialized technical training by Endecon, Zantrex and SMA America. These highly honored associations allowed SoCal to become a prestigiously certified Shell Solar integrator, distributor and commercial installer for Shell Solar Industries. Shell is a leading manufacturer of high-performance, CIS (copper-indium-diselenide) thin-film solar modules and scaleable solar systems for large corporate customers worldwide.

Active in over 90 countries spanning Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Shell reports worldwide demand of solar photovoltaic panels are tremendous. Japan, China, India and most of Europe are “green-minded” and demand sometimes exceeds supply for solar panels. Many major oil companies are investing millions in research and development of solar energy, citing this as an inevitable major energy source.

Today, SoCal’s headquarters in Mission Viejo, Calif., call for its team to travel extensively beyond their offices to consult personally with the incoming inquiries and requests. Kevin Fultz, a new member of the SoCal executive team, joined Pierrat as project manager after the two worked together on the Jet Source project. Fultz was employed at Jet Source and crucial in detailed decisions on the solar project.

“I selected SoCal Solar after reviewing dozens of solar energy companies,” Fultz said. “Jim’s exceptional integrity combined with his remarkable knowledge of solar and its application to business in general sealed the deal.”

With 25 years’ experience in project management for multimillion dollar homes and businesses in California and Hawaii, Fultz believes without question that solar is a sound investment for large structures.

“When I was hired by Jet Source, Richard McWilliam (the owner) asked me to research solar thoroughly for the building project,” Fultz says. “I had taken a solar energy course 25 years ago in college, but back then solar was too small an industry to make a living at it. When I began research for the project, I dug into all the current information on solar I could find; I was astonished by the technological advances that had been made.”

Fultz said he knew the first mission was to select the best quality panels and the best contractor he could find to install them. SoCal Solar was his definitive choice to present to Jet Source.

“With rising energy fuel costs, particularly for the aviation industry, and added awareness due to the record-breaking 2005 hurricane season, the amazing advances in solar make it the smart choice for those who want to control their financial future and their energy supply,” Fultz said. “People will more and more want freedom from the chokehold of public power suppliers. The time and technology are right now for business as well as homes.”

Municipalities are realizing the long-term savings and the future of solar. SoCal’s other recent major project was the installation of the largest water agency photovoltaic solar energy plant in the California desert. Located in the Coachella Valley, it serves all of Palm Springs in its 325-mile service area. The new installation will significantly reduce rate-payer operating costs and set an example for other agency users in the public and private sector.

But what about the crucial question of aviation safety with solar? Solar was a choice that placed efficiency second to safety. With its superb ARG/US Platinum rating, Frank Milian would settle for nothing less than the very best.

“The safe operation of aircraft has been and will always be priority at Jet Source,” Milian says. “This operating philosophy is embraced with strong conviction by our dedicated team of aviation professionals and is demonstrated at every level within our organization. The audit of ARG/US consists of multiple evaluations of quality and safety, including operational and maintenance procedures.”

With electricity, there’s always a warranted concern for safety. But safety is not a question because of the use of solar, according to Jim Pierrat.

“The conversion is instant, automatic,” he said. “Nothing whatsoever misses a beat in the conversion. Solar is absolutely the fiscally sound and only solution to meet demand-exceeding resources while keeping intact aviation’s most important commodity–safety.”

Solar made good business sense to Richard McWilliam, who as well as being the owner of Jet Source is the chairman and founder of The Upper Deck, and was recently voted “most influential” person of the past 20 years by the sports collectible industry around the world.

“Solar offers a measure of independence from the volatile and unpredictable electricity markets, not to mention the sensitivity we must all address with our rapid depletion of natural resources and pollution of the environment by the use of fossil fuels,” McWilliam said.

The return on investment for the Jet Source solar system is approximately four to five years. In addition to the solar photovoltaic panels, the decision to install a new lighting system will assist in efficiency and effectiveness, and increase bottom-line savings.

“I expect our electrical consumption to be virtually free in the not-too-distant future,” remarks McWilliam. “On the other side of it, Jet Source won’t have to build any more power plants or consume any more oil to produce electricity for its growth.”

Over the last year or so, the technology of the solar panels has improved significantly. And as natural resource prices rise, the natural types of generators become far more cost effective. McWilliams claims we’ll actually pay less at the gas pump if we consider solar or natural alternatives for our electrical energy.

“For me this was basically a testing process in the use of solar,” he said. “I’m reviewing the tally in savings every month to Jet Source’s electrical bills. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s very favorable. If the bottom line continues in the savings direction it’s presently headed, I’ll go solar on my commercial investments at The Upper Deck facilities and many other properties I own, including future FBOs.”

He’s already considering one of his private homes to be solar paneled by SoCal Solar. A data acquisition system is installed to provide real time readings and logging capabilities. Such data acquisition systems can be Web-based and incorporated into the company website.

“The price of going solar upfront can seem somewhat a bigger initial investment, but the pain of regret is hundreds of times bigger as the public watches energy prices continue to soar,” says Pierrat. “Benefiting from aggressive rebate structures, a solar system will have 50 percent of its purchase price paid for by external sources. Additionally, by depreciating this capital asset, you are afforded another opportunity to reduce your overall costs, resulting in overall system savings of up to 65 percent or more.”

Rebates are a big incentive. The State of California shines brightly on the installation of renewable energy with a variety of energy-demand response programs. State financial support for solar energy ranges from the governor’s plan for a million solar homes to programs supported by the State Energy Commission and the State Public Utilities Commission. There are federal investment tax credits to encourage renewable energy also. Beginning 2006, the feds will offer a 30 percent tax credit incentive for businesses going solar. All states will continue to jump into the solar pool and offer incentives for businesses and homeowners as well.

SoCal Solar workers install photovoltaic panels on Jet Source’s Hangar 4, creating the first 100 percent photovoltaic solar powered FBO.

SoCal Solar workers install photovoltaic panels on Jet Source’s Hangar 4, creating the first 100 percent photovoltaic solar powered FBO.

The Federal Energy Commission predicts electrical energy costs to increase by 15 percent this year and to double in five years. A recent USA Today cover story reported that hard hit natural gas production will cause heating bills to jump as high as 50 percent this coming winter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“No question whatsoever–a solar electric system is a solid financial investment” says Pierrat. “By providing independence from the local utility, your solar electric system protects you from unexpected electric rate increases. It makes sense by appealing to investors, employees, customers, environmental organizations and political leaders. In addition, your solar electric system produces clean, reliable energy, sparing your local environment from tons of harmful pollutants.”

Choice of only top-quality photovoltaic panels and servicing strategies is critical for anyone considering going solar. Requirements must be met for maximum power output even under reduced light conditions. So what about the snow bunnies and rainy, gray climates?

“The high efficiency output of these Shell Solar panels maintains equal effectiveness in inclement weather conditions. Snow, rain, hail, or gray days on end are just not a deterrent in solar. You make adjustments with snow piling up. It makes no difference in efficiency,” claims Pierrat.

The solar systems are engineered to the most rigorous specifications, able to withstand catastrophic weather events like heavy wind conditions. A torsion and corrosion-resistant anodized aluminum frame ensures dependable performance. Tempered silicon glass ensures high-impact resistance against hail, snow, ice and storms. The evolution of the mono-crystalline range ensures that the products have a long, reliable service and are backed by a 25-year warranty.

Looks were important also. Jet Source insisted on the best external visual appeal in their decision as well. Rising costs are vital, but what about overall appearance to our buildings and roofs?

Gone are the days when solar panels are unsightly. Instead, today’s solar photovoltaic panels make for a streamlined, high-tech, futuristic “Jetsons” look for commercial and residential buildings. Jet Source’s roof is beautiful with the densely-packed cells and high-tempered solar panel glass glistening in the afternoon sun. The panels actually keep buildings cooler in the summer, offering a surprise shade practicality as well.

“The Shell CIS thin film panels are tomorrow’s technology available today, perfect for high-demand visual aesthetics,” Pierrat said. “Dense packing of cells gives more power where space is limited and the grid-tied panels actually create a uniform, attractive appearance.”

A San Diego TV station plans to film a feature segment on the SoCal Solar and Jet Source aviation solar venture in January 2006.

“Media is fascinated by this venture. It’s the ultimate PR tool,” boasts Frank Milian. “Jet Source’s open house in June of this year allowed a dedication ceremony to explain the importance of this investment and its value to the company and the community. It also gave us a chance to illustrate how a move toward clean solar energy ties into long-term business strategy and into our community.”

SoCal assists clients in communicating energy and environmental vision. Pierrat recommends that companies get the word out proudly to the media and community officials when going solar.

“The media is fascinated by solar energy taking off for businesses and residences.” Pierrat adds. “Good news travels fast.”

SoCal encourages an interactive dedication ceremony that includes key people–employees, local business leaders and politicians, important investors, customers and the press.

“Regional politicians love to affiliate with progressive-moving businesses that enhance community safety and demonstrate forward thinking,” says Pierrat. “Transitioning to solar in the aviation industry today is quite simply a smart investment in your company’s future. The structure of the airport hangar makes it a natural, easy transition.”

A solar power system like Jet Source will eliminate over 49,500,000 pounds of pollution over a 25-year period, improving the health of employees and the local environment.

“Solar creates a win/win for everyone involved,” concludes Pierrat.

For more information, contact SoCal Solar Energy at 949-540-0350 or visit [] or [].