Innovate

Solar Impact Helps Beat High Electric Costs


Written By: Erica Brown

Solar InstallationAlthough high electric rates increase the cost of doing business in Alachua County, local companies have an affordable alternative – thanks to solar energy.

“Businesses can benefit from solar power because it is affordable and reliable,” said Barry Jacobson, president of Gainesville-based Solar Impact. “With solar, the business owners control their electricity cost and receive a good return on their investment.”

Alachua-based CTD Holdings is reaping those benefits, said CEO Dr. Jeffrey Tate.

The company’s electric bill is zero. That’s a big change from an annual electric bill that totaled $6,800 the year before the company’s solar system began operating in October 2011.

Without solar, the electric bill would have risen significantly over the past three years, since the company has increased its air conditioned space from 1,200 to 3,100 square feet during that time.

“Solar Impact has been great to work with, and they have helped us achieve our goal of being self-sufficient in our net electric use,” Tate said.

 

Three-Pronged Approach

CTD Holdings’ solar system works in three ways. First, solar panels installed on the roof by Solar Impact generate electricity.

Some days, the equipment generates more electricity than the building needs, and the excess power to transmitted into the City of Alachua’s power grid. On other days – especially cloudy ones – the building uses somewhat more power than it produces. Overall, the net electricity purchase from the utility is zero.

Second, the solar panels keep heat off the roof. This not only reduces the cooling needs in the air-conditioned part of the building; it also keeps the production area (which is not air-conditioned) comfortable.

“This area was like an oven before,” Tate said.

The heat reduction on roofs covered by solar panels can be dramatic, Jacobson said. “In the summer, the heat on roofs often is 165 degrees, but that can drop to 90 degrees when solar panels are installed,” he said.

The third part of the solar system uses long glass vacuum tubes to collect solar thermal energy to produce hot water and to heat the building.

CTD Holdings is a family of biotechnology growth companies based on cyclodextrin chemistry. The company’s products are used in the biopharmaceutical, cosmetics, food and nutritional products industries.

The company’s biopharmaceutical division is developing an orphan drug used to treat children suffering Niemann-Pick Type C — a rare genetic disease sometimes known as childhood Alzheimer’s disease.

“We are meeting the needs of the 21st Century, and we want to operate a 21st Century factory,” Tate said. “Solar helps us do that.”

 

Cost Considerations

“CTD Holdings is not unique,” Jacobson said. “Anyone can benefit from solar.”

There’s bad news and good news about the cost of solar. The bad news is that most state and local incentives are gone.

Part of the good news is that federal support through tax credits and accelerated depreciation remains through 2016.

The other good news is that the price of solar equipment has dropped dramatically.

“The typical annual return on investment is between 13 and 20 percent, meaning that a system pays for itself quickly,” Jacobson said. “After that, you can have over 20 years of virtually free solar electricity – while utility electric rates will continue to rise.”

Capital City Bank is among the local lenders that will make loans on solar systems. “For many of our customers, the savings on their electrical bills are more than enough to cover their loan payments,” Jacobson said.

 

Area’s Largest Solar Electric Company

 Barry and Elaine Jacobson started Solar Impact because they saw a need for affordable solar electric systems. They applied their backgrounds in engineering and economics to the challenge.

They’ve succeeded in building a business that is the largest solar electric company in North Central Florida and one of the largest in the state.

In addition to the Jacobsons, the team includes project manager Richie Wilhoit, who holds a master’s degree in building construction from the University of Florida.

Solar Impact clients include:

  • McGurn Management Co.
  • AMJ inc.
  • Emmer Development Corp.
  • CTD Holdings, Inc.
  • The Florida Museum of Natural History
  • The Alachua County Library District
  • The Alachua County School District
  • Gainesville Regional Airport
  • Oaks and Northwood Oaks Veterinary Hospitals
  • Millhopper Montessori School
  • The Avera & Smith law firm
  • The Dell Graham law firm
  • Tyndall Air Force Base

The company also has installed solar systems in other businesses, public facilities and more than 100 homes.

“Elaine and I are grateful to our team at Solar Impact for all of their dedication and hard work and to our wonderful customers for believing in us,” Barry Jacobson said.

“Before Solar Impact, solar electricity was not cost-effective. We are proud of our role in making solar electricity the lower cost alternative to buying electricity from the utility,”

 

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