It’s hard to know when you are a home owner or small company whether the benefits of rooftop solar power are worth the risk. Last December, SafetyWear, a small company in Fort Wayne, Indiana opted to install a rooftop solar system on its roof. Brian Steele, chief financial officer of SafetyWear, says the goal was to to install enough panels to produce more than enough electricity to meet the company’s needs.
The company they hired to install the system was from San Diego, where the sun shines 68% of the time. In Fort Wayne, is it sunny just 59% of the time. “It’s hard to know when you’re a rookie” how well the system will work, Steele says. The plan was for SafetyWear to generate about 107% of its electricity needs from the system, which would allow it to bank a small amount of excess energy with the local utility company. In the past six months, the company has consumed 65 megawatts of electricity, but its solar-power system has generated 70 to 72 megawatts, meaning it has generated seven megawatts more electricity than it has used.
Steele says the culture of his company is to conserve energy. He goes around turning off lights that aren’t being used. He even turns off the light in his office when he goes to lunch. During the day, the company opens the windows in the warehouse to let light in. He monitors the solar system closely and has learned a few things that surprised him.
For instance, good days sometimes aren’t as productive as days that might not seem ideal. On a cloudy day, the system can generate more electricity than it can on a hazy day. Bright sunny days are not as productive as he thought they would be if it is very hot outside. The best days, Steele says, are when it is about 50 degrees outside.