Prepare Today for the Net Zero Office Building: Here’s how
This article was originally published by the St. Louis Business Journal and written by one of our Senior Project Developers, Dan Hancock June 21, 2021.
Now that employees are returning to the office, facilities managers are getting reacquainted with the energy bills that come with a full house. Now is the time to consider how to control those costs by moving to a carbon neutral, net zero building with energy efficiency and solar energy.
The first step to net zero is to reduce consumption of fossil fuels before the energy is even produced. The least expensive energy is the energy you don’t have to buy. Energy efficiency solutions like automatic building controls, lighting controls and high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment are the first step to ensure the appropriate level of energy at the right place and time. These energy-efficiency solutions tend to have the quickest payback period. Ameren currently offers very attractive incentives for energy efficiency improvements. I recommend starting with an energy audit to best identify the highest return on investment of the energy efficiency option.
Once you’ve tackled energy efficiency, consider solar energy as the next step for a net zero footprint. The more efficient the building, the smaller the solar PV system needed to offset your energy. I have worked with many companies in designing their solar PV systems, and always discuss the building’s energy consumption. The kilowatt hours consumed over the year frames our discussion of a solar PV system. From that base number, we can knowledgeably talk about energy offset or energy savings goals. But if you have already sized up your building energy goals, you will have a smaller number to start with, saving money.
Our recent client, Automatic Controls Equipment Systems (ACES), a St. Louis-based contractor of building automations systems for facilities, recently went through this process before installing their 85kW array. The company purchased the new headquarters building in 2018 and completed an energy efficiency rehab with improved mechanical, lighting and building automation systems.
ACES was familiar with solar from their previous building, so installing solar was an easy next step. “We view solar as a hedge against future electricity increases and allows us to control costs,” said Justin Vogt, president of ACES. In their first month of their solar PV system going live, the company went from a $700 monthly bill to receiving a $75 dollar credit on their bill. “We anticipate zero electricity costs over the course of the year,” said Adam Rustige, energy engineer.
Solar prices continue to drop while efficiency gains on modules improve the power generated over the same roof square footage. However, there is a very small window for small businesses to take advantage of federal and local incentives that drive down the price of solar.
For the next two years, the federal Investment Tax Credit stays at 26%, allowing businesses to take a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their taxes paid. The tax credit steps down to 22% in 2023 and 10% in 2024. Additionally, Ameren Missouri offers a $250 per kilowatt rebate for business solar installations. For an average small business, that could mean an extra $25,000 in cash. When you factor in interest-only financing with long-term amortization, switching to solar can immediately help with cash flow and make solar affordable.
To further incent businesses, an innovative solar group buy program called Renew STL Solar launched to help small and medium-sized businesses go solar. The program, organized by Renew Missouri, an expert in energy efficiency and renewable energy, pre-negotiated very low prices from the solar installer and will use these discounts to provide rebates to participants.
ACES found tremendous benefits in the program. “Renew STL Solar helped us save money, and it feels great to be one of the first participants of something that’s bringing jobs and reinvestment to the St. Louis region,” said Vogt and Rustige.
In addition to discounts, Renew STL Solar will honor participating businesses with awards and public acknowledgement on their transition to solar energy and their leadership in our region’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. For more information, see https://renewmo.org/renewstlsolar/
When you are ready to unchain your business from electricity cost increases, we are here to help. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded in 2006, StraightUp Solar is a self-performing turn-key solar photovoltaic energy capture and storage system design, installation, and maintenance provider. Certified as B Corporation, StraightUp Solar’s design and installation portfolio ranges from 2KW residential rooftop systems to 1.8MW municipal and commercial ground-mount installations.