Headquartered in North Chelmsford, Mass., American Capital Energy is the leading solar engineering, procurement and construction contractor and solar developer in the United States.
The privately held, American owned and operated company helps businesses adopt solar power as a viable, cost-savings solution. It also works with utilities to meet their renewable energy portfolio standard requirements through strategic partnerships with solar photovoltaic (PV) module manufacturers and experienced installation companies.
A solar systems integrator, American Capital Energy manages all steps behind the implementation of a solar power array. “We do turnkey solutions, so we do everything from the design and engineering right through to the maintenance and follow up,” says Gail Witham, the company’s vice president of marketing. “So, it is one-stop, and all of our systems are guaranteed.”
Specifically, American Capital Energy assumes responsibility for financial analysis, project financing, system design, procurement, project management, installation, operation training and maintenance. The company ensures that projects are delivered on time and within budget and meet power production estimations.
“Along with the utility companies, we install systems for commercial and government customers,” says Witham. “Typically, all are looking to leverage or save on electric costs.”
American Capital Energy has been involved in solar projects for convention centers, warehouses, carports, strip malls, brownfields, wetlands and large plots of land.
Projects include either ground mounted or roof mounted solar system installation. “One of our biggest benefits is that we do not manufacture solar panels. Rather, we will use the most appropriate panel for the project,” adds Witham. “We know which type of panel is best for the specific situation. Also, we buy directly from the manufacturer, not through a distributor, so we have much better buying power.”
American Capital Energy specializes in large-scale projects, points out Witham. Some of these include the most expansive rooftop arrays in the country and some of the most challenging brownfield installations.
“Currently, we are working on a project for GlaxoSmithKline [GSK] at its million-square-foot warehouse in York, Pa.,” she says. “When completed, it will be the largest roof-mounted project to date in the United States.”
GSK became involved with American Capital Energy to take its commitment to renewable energy to the next level at this Northeast Regional Distribution Center. Nearly 11,000 solar panels will cover an area on the roof that is about the size of seven football fields. The panels will generate enough electricity to meet the annual energy needs of the building. That’s equivalent to the power needed each year for almost 400 average-sized homes.
“Many people today still don’t realize what solar energy is,” says Witham. “They think the energy is the heat that they are feeling. That is passive solar, and that has nothing to do with what we do. As the sun produces both heat and light, we capture the light bars and convert the energy from the light into electricity.”
One of greatest advantages of solar energy, she adds, is that there are no moving parts, so it is quiet and efficient. If installed properly, a system can last 30 to 40 years. “When you look at the long-term costs, you see that it is a very cost-effective solution. Also, it’s reducing the carbon footprint of many companies, and companies will have to start meeting new standards for pollution levels that are acceptable,” she says.
For the GSK project, each solar panel weighs about 60 pounds and is more than six feet long and more than three feet wide. The panels are installed in a grid system in sets of three. Nearly 100 workers will hoist the panels to the roof with a crane, securing them into place and networking them into the power system. American Capital Energy plans to install about 500 panels each day.
The 3-megawatt system is expected to generate approximately 3.4 million kilowatt hours of energy per year. This will enable the facility to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3,000 tons annually. It would take nearly 15,000 trees to absorb that much carbon dioxide in a single year. When the project is completed, it will be the first time a GSK facility anywhere in the world will be completely reliant on solar energy.
“But we are going to be working with GSK on other projects after this one,” adds Witham.
GSK received government funding and solar incentives to help finance the project. A $1 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Financing Authority and $4.1 million in federal tax credits will help pay for the project. GSK will also utilize energy savings and Solar Renewable Energy Credits to offset costs.
In its efforts to become a more energy efficient company, GSK will bring solar power to each of its North American distribution facilities in the next few years. The large-scale American Capital Energy project at York will serve as the blueprint. The next project will involve installation at the GSK distribution center in Fresno, Calif. GSK reports that, together, the York and Fresno facilities will generate 60 percent of the total distribution center electricity supply from clean, renewable solar energy.
Witham indicates that this kind of project underscores one of American Capital Energy’s most significant differentiators: experience. “We really know this business from top to bottom,” she says. “We weren’t neophytes when we came into this.”
The company was only established in 2005, but its three founders – Tom Hunton (president and chief executive officer), Art Hennessey (chief financial officer) and Juris Kalejs, Ph.D (chief technology officer) – boast extensive previous experience in the field.
In its short history, American Capital Energy has experienced enormous growth, reports Witham. “From our inception, from year to year, our revenues have doubled or tripled.”
The company has installed more than 30 MW of PV in seven states. PV generates electrical power through the application of solar cells by converting sunlight directly into electricity. Materials presently used for photovoltaics include monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium selenide/sulfide.
“Also, we have already expanded into the international market,” reveals Witham.
Indeed, earlier this year, American Capital Energy announced the formation of a solar energy joint venture (with MSM Energy) based in India. This new company, ICE Solar Private Ltd., immediately began providing PV solar engineering, procurement and construction to the Indian market.
Back home, American Capital Energy has been involved in constructing 20 percent of the utility-scale solar PV power plants in the United States, according to a Solar Energy Industries Association report. The company’s experience involves more than just engineering and technology. When projects enter the planning stage, American Capital Energy draws on its extensive experience in securing funding and state and federal incentives to help clients get the most power for the lowest cost.
Obviously, solar energy represents tremendous ecological benefits. That’s first and foremost. But Witham indicates that there are two other advantages that should be of interest to companies. “It’s a good business move. People appreciate the fact that a company is responsible enough to do what is right, morally, for the country and the environment,” she says. “Also, most people don’t realize how much of their annual fixed costs that electricity represents. For most companies, it ranges from 14 to 35 percent. When you reduce or eliminate that, it becomes an asset to the bottom line. Of course, you increase your profitability.”
And when companies get on board with the solar concept, American Capital Energy will be right there with an on-site visit, assess the client’s needs and then design the most cost-efficient and effective system. From there, the company will manage the entire project, from beginning to end, to ensure a seamless transition to a clean power future.