Its CEO, Barry Cinnamon, had been involved in the solar industry since the 1970s before starting his own company. “You hear about companies getting started in someone’s garage,” said Tengco. “This one started on a garage. Barry’s first job was installing solar panels on his own garage. His neighbor saw it and asked him to install a system on his house, and the company just grew from there. He started this company in 2001, and it’s now one of the largest residential and commercial installers in the nation.”
Akeena Solar now has 140 employees and has completed projects in seven states. It does retrofit and new construction projects. Between 60 percent and 70 percent of its work is residential and the rest is commercial and public works. The company is in the process of developing relationships with residential and commercial roofers looking to add solar to their repertoires.
San Francisco Project
Tengco points to a large commercial project in San Francisco as just one example of what his company can do in the commercial arena. “Last year we installed solar panels on four buildings owned by the same owner, and to this day it’s the largest commercial installation in San Francisco,” he said.
The buildings are in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point area, which the city was looking to help improve. “In San Francisco, we work with the city to create city rebates that target low-income areas specifically,” said Tengco.
The 385 kW system includes 1,500 solar panels, which produce 60 percent of the energy needed to power the building, according to Tengco. In this case, the low-slope roofs were already completed, and Akeena simply installed the solar arrays on top of the membrane’s cap sheet. “We do both new construction and retrofit work with a variety of general contactors, roofers, electricians, etc. In this case, we just handled the solar.”
The design of the solar panels makes them durable and easy to install, said Tengco. “In short, we’ve created a solar power system called Andalay, the only integrated racking, wiring and framing system available today,” he said. “With the integrated panel there’s no exposed wiring. It’s designed to create reliable power for the next 25 years.”
The company has created a non-penetrating, ballasted system for flat roofs. “It protects against wind shear and seismic concerns, and does not require penetrations,” said Tengco. Most places in California require tethering of the system. In some cases, local building codes can vary, cautions Tengco, and some jurisdictions require penetrations, but even in these cases the Andalay system requires fewer penetrations than other systems. “The rack and wiring are exclusive to Akeena, and the non-penetrating system is particularly attractive to building owners and roofers,” he said.
Akeena provides building owners with a variety of options for purchasing a solar system. “People can purchase it straight out or finance it with credit,” said Tengco. “Payback is six to nine years. Customers who purchase the system get an estimate as to their specific payback. The system is warranted to last 25 years.”
Another option is a power purchase agreement (PPA). “Building owners want to reduce the cost of electricity and help the environment,” he said. “With a power purchase agreement, Solar Power Partners actually owns the system. If you have a flat roof and want a predictable rate of electricity for a period of 15, 20, 25 years, Solar Power Partners will purchase the system, own the system, and charge the owner a fee. Rather than a fluctuating bill, building owners have a predictable rate of power.”
In California, incentives are a big help in making the case for solar applications. “If you look at the cost of going solar, there’s never been a better time,” said Tengco. “The cost of solar panels has never been lower, and we’ve passed the savings along. When you figure in federal, state and municipal rebates, sometimes 50 percent of the cost is paid for with tax incentives and rebates. When depreciation is added for commercial projects, the contribution can be as high as 70 percent.”
When specifying a system, Akeena engineers consider the type of roof, its orientation, the amount of sunlight it receives, and any shadows or shading during the day. The most important factor, according to Tengco, is what the owner hopes to achieve. “We ask, ‘What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to lower your electricity bill, eliminate the electricity bill, or just help reduce greenhouse gasses?’ Then, once we have an understanding of what the owner’s goals are, we check the orientation, shading, and figure out how the sun will hit the building throughout the year.” The company then comes up with a proposal tailored for the individual situation.
The company’s latest offering is designed to overcome some typical obstacles, such as shadows created by chimneys, pipes and the like. “We’ve come up with a new product called Andalay AC, and it mitigates or ends problems with shading,” said Tengco. “If a panel is shaded, the technology allows the other panels to operate at 100 percent. It reduces concerns across the roof.”
Tengco likens the panels to Christmas lights. With the old-style lights, if one bulb burned out, the string would go dark, but now, when one light goes out, the others keep burning, and you can easily find the bad bulb and replace it. “Even if there are problems with one panel, the entire system continues to operate,” he said. “Additionally, the micro-inverter boosts performance of each panel from 5 to 25 percent.”
Most systems produce DC power, which goes to an inverter, where it is switched to AC. However, Andalay AC does away with a larger central inverter by including a micro inverter in every panel. “Andalay AC turns each panel into an AC panel,” he said. “You can use Romex and bring it right into the building. No separate large-scale inverter is needed. It’s a more reliable panel, a panel that maximizes performance, and one that is easier to install.”
Akeena is forming partnerships with roofing contractors who are looking to add to their skill sets and offer solar, said Tengco. “We want people who are excited by the idea of being able to offer Andalay AC. Because it’s AC power out of the box and reduces the wiring, they can install it with their construction skills.”
The same panels are used for both residential and commercial applications. “At the end of the day, residential jobs are much quicker because of the size of the array. A 5 kW system with 30 panels could be put up in a day.”
“I think that right now it’s a great time to go solar,” concluded Tengco. “It’s never been more affordable. With the incentives available, solar becomes a great opportunity for any homeowner. For contractors, Andalay and Andalay AC can add to their offerings. Between roofers, homeowners and solar integrators, we can help the world go solar one roof at a time.”
For more information about Akeena Solar, visit www.akeena.com.