MBL Energy has completed solar installations at hundreds of California school sites, and recently announced certification of its solar module attachment, the Beacon Clip. The San Jose-based solar power company answered some questions for CleanTechnica about its work.
MBL-Energy’s patented UL-certified Beacon™ Clip is a best-in-class enhanced solar module attachment. It enables us to install the modules at a much faster rate (up to 4x faster) and has been proven much safer than other module attachments, holding well beyond the testing requirements and bearing over 3x the weight requirements, at a competitive cost to other module attachments.
2. Why have you focused on solar power at schools and how many school installations have you completed?
We believe in the idea of solar for all. Schools have a more rigorous process to getting solar approved, for the obvious reasons of safety and transparency. Although we do a lot of other private and public work, schools are a big portion of what we work on, because we want to make sure this is a well-served market. A lot of the staff members in the company have children (including our CEO) and we know we make a product that we stand behind and believe in, which contributes to school savings, while remaining safe. We have installed at approximately 400 school sites across the state of California.
3. What is your vision for working with California schools over the next 3-5 years?
We hope to continue to partner very closely with school districts and expand to work with districts that we haven’t previously worked with before. We pride ourselves on remaining on the forefront of solar technology, and want to make sure we serve each district in accordance with their needs. This will be achieved through a broader vision that MBL-Energy is a resource to all developers that work in the public-school space, as well as end users. There are a variety of options out there for school districts now, including storage, car chargers, microgrid technology, etc. We have had the privilege of working on all of these types of projects and want to continue that work. At the end of the day, we’re a construction company, that happens to be extremely well versed in solar, so strive to grow and strengthen our key partnerships to focus on the goal of expanding solar to every school district in California.
4. How many schools are in your territory you might be able to work with?
We work primarily in the state of California. Within California alone, there are 978 school districts (some have solar already, some don’t). Of those districts, we have built solar for close to 80 districts, dispersed over 400+ school sites.
5. Are parking canopies preferable to school building rooftops for solar power?
The interesting thing about building on a school site is that putting up a solar parking canopy is of equal cost or less than putting on a smaller rooftop solar system. Because of this, we often encourage schools to use canopies to get the added benefit of shade (in parking lots or on playgrounds). The DSA Pre-check allows for a more reasonable permit time line.
Unfortunately, rooftop applications are not afforded this convenience and often the roof space will not support what is needed to create a grid neutral solar solution.
6. How long does it take to complete a school solar power installation?
If there is good access and normal working hours, we can complete a 1MW system in 30 working days. We calculate this time from when we arrive on the site, to the time we leave.
7. Are there special finance considerations for solar power installations at schools?
Solar systems are a great option for schools because they can self-finance (or sometimes have the option of financing it with bond money), Schools are also an attractive prospect to PPA lenders because they can’t actualize the tax credit, so a PPA lender will come in and finance the solar, sell the energy back to the district at a lower cost than what they are currently paying, and take the tax credits. This is a popular option that we frequently see.
8. Is working with schools any more meaningful than working to install solar on a commercial building like a warehouse?
They both are very interesting projects, and both contribute to the greater good of advancing clean energy, which is an all around win. As I mentioned in question 3, we believe that we have the safest design and construction practices on the market, so it’s rewarding when we build a school project knowing that we can stand behind it’s structural safety and integrity, including meeting the rigorous custom testing now required by the permitting authority. It is crucial on any construction project, but particularly vital on a site where there will be children present.
9. How much untapped clean energy potential is there at school parking canopies or building rooftops?
I’m unsure what the question is here, but if you’re asking how much untapped potential there is with school sites, quite a bit. Research will show that less than ½ of all the schools in the state have solar on them.
10. Are any of the schools with your solar power systems also using energy storage systems?
Yes, as I spoke about before, this is a natural evolution of the solar market, although still not the best option for everyone. With NEM 2.0 coming on board, storage technology is crucial for banking and discharging at the times it’ll save the school the most amount of money. We recently wrapped up a project with Santa Rita School District, which is the first school microgrid project. We have also worked on Fontana Unified School District and Clovis Unified School District which had a storage component, to name a few.
11. Do any of your solar power schools also have EV charging?
Yes, this can be an attractive part of the green initiative many schools have taken part in.
12. Are you currently developing any other new equipment or attachments such as the Beacon clip?
We are always iterating on our product development, construction practices and design to make sure it stays on the cutting edge and compatible with other technologies (inverters, monitoring, storage, modules, etc). This is an important part of what’s made our company successful and a personal passion of our CEO, Robert Laubach, who was the designer and developer of the Beacon™ Clip.
Image Credits: MBL Energy