This is a big story, though there doesn’t seem too much coverage about it yet. Apel Steel Corporation in Cullman, Alabama had a 340 kW PV solar system using over 1,000 solar panels designed and installed to generate up to 98% of its electricity.

It has been reported that Apel Steel could save $3,000,000 over the life of the solar panel system. Solar power is often criticized for being too expensive, but in this case we see an example of a very large potential return-on-investment, rather than a loss of money.

“This was a uniquely challenging installation. Not only did we have to engineer and deliver a fully self-contained and optimized power plant, but wire management and overall installation logistics were complex.  On top of this, we had to install the system on uneven, undulating terrain,” explained Chuck Boggs, CEO of ACE LLC SOLAR, the developer and installer.

1,088 Suntech PV solar panels were inserted into 45 Solar FlexRack Series G1Lracking mounts for the new power plant. A utility scale energy harvesting, monitoring and distribution optimizer helps the company maintain a local grid. Called an enerG•Station, it allows for the use of renewable energy and storage of surplus in nearby batteries to be used when needed.

The goal was to make Apel Steel energy independent, as in an off-grid business. Off-grid is a term often associated with clean energy early adopters that own homes they power with solar and wind technology. Sometimes these people are dismissed as being crackpots or ‘granolas’, but a large steel corporation would be considered very mainstream societally. Alabama is also a conservative state, where solar power has not exactly flourished. Apel Steel’s successful investment goes against the local cultural grain, but it also simply makes business sense. has stated that Alabama’s southeastern region similar has sunshine abundance to parts of Florida, so in a physical sense solar power can function well enough there. However, Alabama may be lacking in state incentives to encourage more solar growth.

The fact that a company dependent upon heavy machinery utilizing much energy could dare to go solar, is a testament to the viability of renewable energy for some business applications. The solar installation also took place on unlevel ground with heavy clay and a rocky landscape. That challenge was also taken on and overcome.

Companies like Apel Steel should be commended for taking the lead on clean energy development. Solar panels have steadily declined in price over the last couple of years, so they have become more attractive both for consumers and business owners. Another potential benefit of taking a leading position on operating a business using clean energy is that it can generate free positive press.

Apel was founded in 1941 and today makes a very wide range of steel products.