Utility-scale solar is booming, and residential solar is on the rise, but the small commercial solar market is still largely unrealized, despite wide open potential for growth. It's clear that moving into this space holds a lot of opportunity and potential for business growth, but how do you get started? In this three-post series, we're covering the basics of what you need to know to take the next step. This post is based on information presented by AllEarth Project Engineer Doug MacDonald in our small commercial solar webinar.
Small commercial solar project development can be daunting. If you're just getting started in this market, here are a few key tips to help you make your first small commercial project a success.
Small Commercial Solar Projects Can Be Simple
Small commercial solar doesn't have to be complicated! You can easily keep these projects simple and minimize the balance of system costs. Design systems up to 75kW single phase or up to 250kW three phase with inexpensive 200A switching gear and 320 self-contained metering. Pole mounted transformers can add to simplicity and cost savings. It's also important to choose a solar solution that is modular and easily scalable. All of these solutions will save on development and construction costs.
Larger Projects = Larger Returns
Use economies of scale and efficient, repeatable development and permitting processes to create a successful small commercial solar development business model. You can further increase your ROI by standardizing and streamlining the EPC and development process, and ensuring document standardization (which is critical not just for cost savings, but for financeability as well).
Choosing the right site is one of the biggest pieces of the small commercial solar development puzzle. Minimize shading, and try to find an open site that is dig-ready--tree and brush removal is costly, and will have more of an environmental impact on the project. It's also important to consider interconnect proximity: when dealing with longer wire runs, 3phase is always better than single phase from both utility and project perspectives. For any project over 150kW, 3ph is required. Using the right software can help with your siting process--consider tools such as AutoCad, Google Earth Pro, and SolidWorks.
Now that you've gotten your small commercial solar project designed, you don't want to lose time and money on your installation! Seek and implement a repeatable process that can be performed by one contractor. Follow lean principles to streamline the installation process, and use a solar solution that makes your job easier--consider a product with a one-pallet design, or one with a helical pile base, which will simplify your base installation and can help you install 20-30 bases per day, per machine.
A Successful Small Commercial Solar Project
AllEarth designed, developed, and installed a series of small commercial solar projects for the State of Vermont, each 500kW in size. The State of Vermont wanted to go solar for the guaranteed budget savings that would help them meet their bottom line, and because it is in line with the state's energy goals. The project was structured as a 20-year PPA with a 7-year buyout option, using a virtual net-metering policy for off-site project siting ; the agreement was secured through an RFP and an offer of guaranteed savings (a fixed-rate PPA rather than a floating/indexed PPA). This combination of a fixed-rate PPA and bundled small commercial solar projects across nearly 20 state utility accounts will save taxpayers over $2,500,000 over the initial term at no cost, and with no financial risk.
Want to learn more about the ins and outs of small commercial solar development? Watch our webinar on Small Commercial Solar: Growing Your Business With This Untapped Sector.