The Uniqueness of Solar Projects

Dominic Ballesteros, operations manager for Jokake Electric in Phoenix, Arizona, began working on solar projects almost seven years ago. He eventually met Jorge Garcia, CEO of Jokake Electric, when they were working on a project for Arizona Public Service - the Deer Valley Mission Critical Operations Center.

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“We installed a 19 kW solar system, and I found out that Jorge was interested in getting more involved in solar, so I began working here,” Ballesteros said.

To market the company's solar abilities, Jokake tries not to simply be the low bidder and do a lot of public-type bidding. “About 95 percent of our work is design/build, which means that we can start solar projects with clients in the early, conceptual stages and provide budgeting throughout the project, not only on the electrical side, but other work, such as telephone, data, fire alarm, audio-visual systems, solar, etc.,” said Ballesteros.

One solar project was for Eastlake Park, a park in downtown Phoenix owned by the city, which was originally constructed in the late 1800s. In 2011, the park was overhauled to update and modernize it. The project included selective demolition, site grading, a network of new pathways, new seating walls, entry monuments, new lighting, and a solar system installed by Jokake Electric.

In December 2012, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) began construction on a new commercial truck weight station to inspect vehicles passing through the Douglas (Arizona) Port of Entry. The $4 million facility is being constructed on an 11-acre site in the same location as the existing inspection station. The new station will be housed inside a 5,800-square-foot building, featuring two inspection bays and eight inspection work stations. Both the inspection facilities and the administrative facilities are being built to the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Silver environmental standards, which will include the use of local building materials, low water-use landscaping and plumbing fixtures, and solar. “We are doing the whole job for the ADOT project in Douglas, including a 19 kW solar system,” explained Ballesteros. “We are doing the labor ourselves and are reaching out to different supporting contractors to do the design and provide the materials, which we then install.”

While there is a lot of interest in solar from customers and prospects, the work is not without its challenges, few of which relate to the technology itself, according to Ballesteros. The biggest challenges relate to trying to understand what the owners really want and need, which seem to change over time.

  • One challenge relates to how much power the owners want. “For example, how much do they need to power the facility, and how much do they want to send back through the grid?” he said.
  • Another relates to mounting locations, with which the owners seem to be comfortable at first. “However, as the building goes up and drywall gets in, and they can actually see what things are going to look like, they start to ask why it can't be moved to another location,” he detailed.
  • Another challenge relates to the mounting systems. There are different perceptions of how solar systems mount on roofs. “Some owners think it just lays on a grid, when, in fact, you need to have the arrays capture the sunlight as it tracks across the sky or design the system a little bit larger so it lays on a ballast-type flat roof system and can deal with the wind loads,” he said.
  • Color options of mounting system are also a concern. For example, on one project, the mounting system cantilevered over the building and acted as a shade structure. “As a result, the customer wanted it to be a certain shade of gray, not realizing that mounting systems are only available in standard aluminum finishes,” stated Ballesteros.

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