C&I, Solar

Electricians Install Solar on New Union Hall

Electricians in northern California have installed the largest commercial solar system in the western United States.

SAN JOSE, California, US, 2001-11-09 [SolarAccess.com] Local 332 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union has built a new headquarters with 55 kilowatts of solar power. The solar capacity will provide three quarters of the building’s total electrical demand and will cut the utility bill in half. “The future for solar power is very strong, and the electrical workers have a philosophical and environmental commitment to using solar energy,” says IBEW manager Terry Tanner. “We installed this system ourselves because it points the way to the future of electrical generation for the businesses and communities in Silicon Valley. Plus, it lessens the impact to the environment and lowers our energy costs.” The union hall has been designated an official Green Building model by the City of San Jose. The solar PV system is built into the rooftop and south-side awning, and will supply heating, cooling and lighting to the 400-seat meeting hall, conference rooms and administrative offices. The PV system operates computers, telephones, fire alarm and security systems in the building. On weekends, solar electricity is fed into the utility grid to earn a credit for the building. The Local spent US$400,000 to install the system, of which 40 percent will be rebated by the State of California, which rebates $4.50 per watt of total costs of an installation. “The solar power industry is growing 40 percent per year annually worldwide,” explains IBEW director Jay James. “Many buildings in the 21st Century will be constructed to produce at least some, and eventually all, of their own energy. The IBEW in Silicon Valley will be fully prepared to assume a leadership role in solar technology.” The commitment to solar energy reflects the national policy of IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). Members of Local 332 made a commitment to install PV panels during the building’s pre-planning phase. The union considers solar PV to be an emerging technology and an incubating sector for skilled electrical workers, and the Local is using its own headquarters as a training facility for IBEW members interested in learning how to install PV systems. “A couple of big systems in Europe are producing almost one megawatt of power,” adds George Ingham of the National Photovoltaic Construction Standards & Certification Partnership in Washington, DC. The NPCSCP trained the electricians of Local 332 to install the solar arrays, and obtained the offsetting grants. “As solar gets larger and more difficult and dangerous to install, it moves closer and closer to the electrical industry’s mainstream,” says Ingham. “It’s the responsibility of the electrical industry to train the workers to do these large installations, and the IBEW is in the perfect position to provide the trained electricians.” In addition to the PowerGuard solar tiles that are manufactured by PowerLight of Berkeley, the IBEW building uses a large awning to block sunlight on the south side, saving energy to cool the facility, and skylights to admit natural light, saving energy for artificial lighting.