Watts in your wallet?

Kyle Frandsen


Once upon a time the use of solar energy was seen as a cost-prohibitive fantasy that couldn’t really compete with traditional energy sources.

Over the last ten years or so we have seen a drastic decrease in the cost of purchasing and installing solar materials. Today, solar power has become a highly efficient, cost-effective solution that more and more clients are interested in adopting - providing they have the right climate for it.

Southern California is a perfect market to capitalize on the solar powered trend. Cities such as San Diego (a.k.a. "sun Diego") get an average of 266 days of sunshine per year, an ideal climate for solar energy. When you couple this with the fact that the region is known for consistently facing some of the highest electricity rates in the United States there is really no reason NOT to incorporate solar power in construction and design plans. Especially when you discover exactly how much money can be saved.

100% savings? Yes please

Everyone loves a good bargain. In the summer of 2016, Balfour Beatty helped the Encinitas Union School District ensure significant long-term savings on their electricity bills by managing six solar projects at six different elementary schools. Solar arrays were mounted on either car ports or shade structures at six different elementary schools. A decision that helped streamline the approval process from the Division of the State Architect.

Our project team, led by Senior Project Manager Gordon Stanley and Superintendent Ryan Giddings utilized a design-build approach for selecting the best possible solar installer. The team’s approach evaluated all vendors across the following considerations:

  • Proposed panel manufacturers
  • Proposed inverter manufacturers
  • Placement of the solar arrays
  • Life-cycle cost analysis and payback periods

Lean and green

Based on our team’s thorough analysis, Sullivan Solar Power was selected as the overall best value solarinstaller.  As a further bonus, the selected solar panels are capable of producing more energy with a smaller panel - reducing the overall footprint of the various solar arrays on a site where space was limited.

Thanks to Balfour Beatty, the school district can now reap 100% electricity savings. The savings are extraordinary - the project is expected to pay for itself with electricity savings within 8.3 years.

If we calculate the cost-benefit over a longer period, the estimated 25-year savings from the combined 1.7 MW solar project is over $21 million!

In addition to saving money, this project will have a significant reduction in carbon emissions. The installation will provide a local greenhouse gas reduction offsetting over three million pounds of carbon dioxide each year. According to estimates, the greenhouse emissions saved is equivalent to 287 passenger cars being driven for one year or 61 garbage trucks of waste being recycled instead of sent to landfill.

Benefits you can save, touch and build a future with

This solar power project will provide multiple returns to the school district and its students for years to come. The money saved in electricity bills will be redirected to the district’s general funds which will free up much needed cash resources to support salaries, supplies, equipment and other important initiatives.

The placement of the panels will also provide the tangible, daily benefit of shading and protection from the elements for students and faculty members. But perhaps the most important benefit is also the most intangible. As Encinitas Union School District Superintendent Dr. Beard points out:

“While we expect to see financial savings, the installation of these solar panels allows us to do much more than merely save money on electricity. We see this as an opportunity to lead by example with finding tangible ways to give our students a brighter future.”

Is solar energy the right solution for your project?

Here are some key lessons and takeaways to consider when it comes to using solar energy:

  • Solar projects are complex and a deep evaluation of solar proposals can save our clients a significant amount of money in the long-term
  • Solar on car ports/shade structures is a viable option when roof space and building orientation is an issue. The ability to provide additional shade in gathering areas and parking lots is an added benefit
  • Solar panels can last over 30 years so choosing a quality manufacturer is essential
  • Selecting quality inverters is just as important as selecting quality solar panels
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