By Mark Langlois

Electricity from the sun—installed photovoltaics—is growing at a pace that may double its size in the U.S. in 2016 alone. The Solar Energy Industries Association said U.S. firms and homeowners installed 1,665 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power in the first quarter of 2016, generating enough power for 5.7 homes.

Manufacturers, who frequently have a lot of unused, sunny real estate above their heads, have noticed this trend, and are taking advantage of systems that are more efficient and cost 33 percent less than they did in 2011.

“When you know 70 percent of your energy costs are covered by the sun, that’s a feel-good thing,” said Ron Delfini, president of Engineering Specialties Inc., in North Branford, Connecticut. Engineering Specialties installed 494 solar panels in 2014 on the 30,500-square-foot metal stamping and machining facility, enough to generate 123 kilowatts of power. “Manufacturers are looking for as many ways as possible to cut costs. This helps,” Delfini said.

Delfini said he expects to recover his investment of $300,000 within five years. He said that ESI used utility incentives, and the solar company he hired, Independence Solar, helped ESI through the funding process. Engineering Specialties owns the $300,000 worth of solar panels on the company roof, and he expects the investment to pay off as promised.

“If the payback is five or six years, it makes you think about it,” Delfini said. The panels are warranted to last 25 years. “What happens is the meter starts to run backward.”

Companies and most people want to be environmentally sound, said Jerry Leshem, president of Lesro Industries, a Connecticut furniture manufacturer that covered its roof with 3,200 solar panels in 2016.

Being environmentally friendly was a costly decision in the old days, Leshem said. “It used to be, ‘I want to go green but I have to sacrifice.’”

Times have changed. The Connecticut Green Bank, which helped fund Lesro’s panels, estimates the panels will save Lesro $700,000 over 20 years, or more than $30,000 a year. Lesro said it looks like the $30,000 figure is accurate, but he was interested in something else about the project.

“I fixed my electrical costs for the duration of my working career,” Leshem said. “I’ve taken an unknown and made it a known. It puts coin in your pocket.”

The Bloomfield, Connecticut company of about 270,000-square-feet is 100 percent solar powered by the 3,200 solar panels installed in February 2016.

At D.R. Templeman Co., in Plainville, Connecticut, President Richard Williams said the panels are lowering the company’s generation costs. He said over time, the panels will also reduce the company’s electrical demand costs.  Prior to installing the panels, the company, a precision manufacturer of custom springs, rings and wire forms, was paying about $20,000 for electricity. The photovoltaic panels are expected to cover about $14,000 of that a year.

But deciding to install 360 photovoltaic panels on the roof doesn’t just lower the firm’s monthly electric bill, it makes environmental sense.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Williams said.

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