The Power of the Sun, Part 1: Businesses and solar power

Going green is becoming more popular in the construction industry.

Contractors are using the power of the sun to power our buildings. Many builders are now trying to get a LEED certification for new construction.That stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmenal Design.

The new TRANSPO building in South Bend will be certified and become the largest solar-power system in Indiana.

"Since we were going to have to build a new facility anyway, they wanted to be as modern as possible and as green as possible, and we're shooting for the highest LEED certification," says Rick Brown, TRANSPO general manager.

Rick Brown is proud to talk about his 160,000 square foot building set to be completed in the fall.

"The photomataic cells pick up the sunlight and transfer that to electricity," he says.

"The solar system is about 96 kilowatts,” says Tim Polega of Innovatus Solar. “That's almost 700 solar panels, and they are going to stretch from the east side to the west all the way down to the building."

He says the new technology from these thinner panels made of silicon are as simple as peel and stick. They also do not need direct sunlight.

"These panels specialize in picking up that scattered light. So in this northern Indiana climate, it's the ideal panel to be installing."

So with the help of Mike Maggio and a voltage meter, we put the panels to a test.

"In the shade we're reading 37.9 volts,” says Maggio of MTM Developing. "With full sun, we have between 42 and 45 volts coming out of one panel, now with the full sun, we have 43, 44."

While these panels may only power 10% of the TRANSPO building, to put it in perspective, once all 700 are on the roof collecting energy from the sun, it will be enough to power 24 homes in Michiana.

T.J. Kanczusewski works for Innovatus and also lives in a new LEED certified green neighborhood in Buchanan.

"We monitor the system at our house,” says Kanczusewski. “It kicks on when the sun pops up. The panels are angled at 35 degrees so during April and May and September and October, I get the greatest production. In those months, I have seen my entire utility bill, since my whole house runs off electricity, I have seen it around 30 dollars."

The panels weigh just 3/4 of a pound per square foot and are warranted for 25 years. They are attached to T.J.'s metal roof.

"If you look closely you see little cells in there and originally these were the solar cells in calculators," he says. “It's amazing, and as the years go on, you will see them get thinner and thinner. There are technologies now that are like spray paint you can put up on a roof and produce electricity."

T.J. estimates his thin energy bills will help him pay back the cost for his system in less than 12 years.

"I have saved 65,000 pounds of CO2 from going into the atmosphere."
For him, it is not just about the money.

"Definitely worried about the future of Mother Earth."

TRANSPO also expects to earn back its investment in 12 to 15 years.

"This is going to be the wave of the future," says Rick Brown.

With the population of the world expected to increase from 6.5 billion to 9 billion in the next 30 years, the demand for power will only go up.

"Because the solar panels produce more power when it's really needed, particularly during the summer when you have a situation with a potential brown out, it really does help reduce the likely hood of that brownout,” says Tim Polega.

With so many rooftops in the world, the potential is there to help bring relief to the energy crisis.

Solar panels will not replace oil and coal anytime soon, but we do need alternative sources to supplement the growing demand for power.

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