industrial solar

Hughson Nut gets energy efficient, installs solar

Hughson Nut Inc. has installed a 586 kilowatt solar system at its 50,000-square-foot almond processing facility.

The Hughson, Calif.-based company processes almonds for the confectionery, bakery, cereal, health and snack food industries. It processes and markets its own almonds and those of select growers to worldwide customers.

Martin Pohl, a principal of the company, says the project made a lot of sense. In a statement, he says the project "helps us meet our dual goals of environmental sustainability while reducing energy costs for the benefit of our growers and partners."

Energy from the sun

Solar continues to make inroads on rooftops of industry, government and commercial sectors as well as private homes. Despite some hiccups, heated competition and manufacturers pulling the plug, installed solar continues to increase in California and nationwide.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. solar market grew to $6 billion in 2010, up 67 percent from $3.6 billion in 2009. And that trend is expected to continue, with solar photovoltaic installations projected to double again in 2011. The Association says at year end 2010, the United States had 2,593 megawatts of installed solar electric capacity.

Rooftops are considered the next frontier for solar. Before he left office, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about blanketing the many warehouses in the state with solar panels. Companies like Hughson Nut are trend setters in that respect.

Trend setter

Others will be watching. Pohl says he's more than willing to share his experience.

When the San Joaquin Valley agriculture industry hears of the results, growers, dairy operators and processors will weigh the information carefully. If they get a good report, expect to see more panels going up on other facilities throughout the region.

Pohl started with solar two years ago on his own house. "I wanted to learn more," he says.

Then Pohl's son installed solar on his seasonal almond hulling operation and found he was able to cover nearly all his power costs by banking energy throughout the year. "He built up credit to use when fall came," Pohl says.

Start with energy efficiency

Hughson Nut then enlisted the aid of the Turlock Irrigation District, which provides its power. The utility sent out engineers to perform a detailed energy audit to see where energy efficiency retrofits could be made to lighting and other electrical consuming devices. One big consumer they found was metal halide lighting in the company's cold storage facility that remained on almost all the time.

Those lights were swapped for energy efficient T5 high-bay fluorescent lighting that came on only when people entered the facility. Other retrofits included existing compressors, which were replaced with new units designed to work efficiently with variable frequency drives. Big energy savers.

"We've done everything we know to do to cut down our power usage," Pohl says. "It made a huge difference."

Cenergy Power installed Hughson Nut's system.

Rooftop solar & decentralized generation can save California

Rooftops may not be the final frontier, but they do provide ample fields for cultivating solar panels.

So says Al Weinrub, who has penned "Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California." Weinrub is a member of the Sierra Club California Energy-Climate Committee and serves on the Steering Committee of the Bay Area’s Local Clean Energy Alliance. He said he relied extensively on work from both.

"Decentralized generation means that local residences, businesses, and communities become electric power producers," he writes. "Businesses with large rooftops or parking lots can become small power companies that feed electricity into the grid."

The beauty is that these buildings are already connected to the electrical grid and have an existing footprint, benefits that a remote solar installation doesn't always have. Industrial solar on empty land requires extensive permitting, studies and review of environmental impact, especially if its federal. Those panels definitely can change a picturesque landscape.

Buildings offer many acres of alternative energy opportunity. Just check out John Majoris' work at for a King Kong view of some pretty amazing projects.

Rooftop power

Sandy Nax and I came to a similar conclusion over the the past year or so. Actually our former governor said the same thing and we agreed: The otherwise unused rooftops of the acres of warehouses in Fresno/San Joaquin Valley provide a great place for easy-to-permit solar and a cheap additional crop to be farmed on those rather ugly asphalt-topped fields.

I apologize in advance to any owners of said structures who have added white "cool roofs," that drastically lower cooling costs by reflecting sunlight.

Some companies in California already are moving ahead with industrial solar on commercial warehouses. IKEA, for example, plans to install 7,980 panels on its Tejon distribution center just off Interstate 5 at the foot of the Grapevine south of Bakersfield. The installation will generate 2.8 million kilowatt hours annually, enough to power 251 houses. The retailer also plans solar systems at stores in Burbank, Costa Mesa, Covina, East Palo Alto, Emeryville, West Sacramento and San Diego.

Solar for cities

At an Atwater City Council meeting, the concept was raised of using solar panels to defray the intensive costs of pumping water to meet summertime demands. All small jurisdictions in the San Joaquin Valley, like many across the nation, are hard-hit due to reduced revenues from dramatic declines in real estate values.

For instance my house in Clovis is now worth $120,000 on a good day. I bought it in 2005 for $269,000. Such dives in value cut revenues from property-tax dependent cities and counties in half and result in tough challenges come budget time.

Solar isn't perfect. But it does offer an avenue to electrical generation far cleaner than fossil fuels. Our mission would be to spell out costs, find the best sites and interpret the volume of data out there, making it easier on over-worked municipal staffers.

Change isn't simple

Weinrub doesn't say it will be easy. Quite the opposite. "Achieving this vision will require overcoming obstacles from the energy and utility industries, public agencies, and other interests vested in the century-old investor-owned utility model," he says. The potential is a 2010 commercial rooftop capacity of 19,323 megawatts, he says.

The solution? Weinrub suggests new policies and programs. One is community choice energy, "which allows a city or county to aggregate the electricity demand of all customers," and the other a more controversial concept called a feed-in tariff, which is used in Germany and elsewhere to bring the cost of alternatives in line with conventional energy on the grid.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also likes the idea of using already occupied space. It is soliciting applications from communities and other governmental bodies that want to evaluate the potential development of renewable energy on potentially or formerly contaminated properties.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory will make the call, figuring what works best where. The plan is to create jobs and increase renewable energy.

Maximizing alternative energy opportunities while minimizing impact. Sounds like a great idea.

Photo courtesy John Majoris at