Solar Energy – The Fastest Growing Energy Technology in U.S.
The demand for solar energy has skyrocketed, and today it is the fastest growing energy technology in the United States. When looking at recent figures– the US solar market industry expanded from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6 billion in 2010 – a massive leap of about 67% within a year. One way of quantifying it is looking at the solar electric capacity installations that reached 956 MW in 2010, which is more than double the installations from 2009. This trend continued in 2011 when the solar PV installations doubled again.
What has caused this dramatic rise one might ask? High fuel cost, inflation, increased carbon tax, coupled with rising concerns about global climate change has led to this jump. In addition, solar energy is a sustainable resource which will obviously not deplete. Going solar will not only diminish the risk of energy shortages but will also prevent the adverse environmental effects that usually result in the use of conventional energy. What is more interesting to note is that this augmenting demand for alternative energy resulted in the emergence of a full-fledged solar construction industry. One of the leaders in this industry is the JMC Steel Group. They have immensely helped the engineers and contractors to design and build the solar projects of tomorrow.
On behalf of the Pile Buck team, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Jelani Rucker, the Director of Marketing and Business Development for the JMC Group. Mr. Rucker is responsible for developing and managing marketing initiatives across the entire JMC product portfolio. As a results-oriented senior executive, he has more than 15 years of experience in all facets of business operations, management, sales and marketing. He also develops new business opportunities and strategic relationships with companies in current and emerging industries. I interviewed Mr. Rucker to find out the success behind JMC and its products, how their technology has an edge over its competitors and what are the challenges they face. This is what he had to say…
Where does JMC stand in the US solar market today?
In 2011, JMC Steel Group’s Atlas Tube division’s products were used in 200+MW of solar projects in the U.S.
Which solar technology solar products does JMC specialize in, and how does that technology have an edge over the ones offered by other such companies?
Structural support (steel piers, cross members, torque tubes for tracking systems, and panel racking systems for ground-mounted and rooftop systems)
What are the greatest challenges JMC has faced in their involvement in the solar industry?
The lack of industry standard regarding the size and type of steel support required. Each project has custom requirements. Sometimes the product requested needs to be galvanized, other times it does not have to be. The decisions seemed to be price/cost driven and not performance driven.
Please elaborate on the mechanics of a particular solar product of JMC (most popularly used). How does it work, can you walk through the entire process?
- Steel Piers – Installed into the ground as vertical supports for ground-mounted fixed or tracking solar systems. These are typically hot-dipped galvanized round tubes. They allow the panels to sit several feet above the ground.
- Torque Tubes/Cross members – These are typically square tubes used either rotate the solar panels used in tracking systems, or provide added structural support above the ground for fixed panel systems.
- Solar Panel racking – These tubes are either square, round, or rectangle shaped that are used in a variety of configurations to provide added stability for the solar panels above the ground. The solar panel systems are mounted to these racking structures.
How are the galvanized round, square and rectangular steel tubing produced by JMC any different from the ones produced by other solar energy producing companies? What makes JMC’s steel tubing unique?
The main thing that makes the JMC galvanized product unique is that we can galvanize our product “in-house”. We have both internal hot-dip and in-line galvanizing processes. This allows us to better control costs and product quality. It also enables us to offer our customers a more competitive and high quality product. For rooftop applications, JMC’s structural tubing offers substantial weight, strength and approximately 20% cost advantages over aluminum. Please elaborate on this cost advantage.
There are significant wind loads at the top of most buildings and there is a need to weigh the system down so that it does not move or blow off of the roof. The advantage of steel is based on the fact that the steel acts as its own ballast/weighted system. Most rooftop solar systems are made from aluminum or other lightweight materials. This requires the contractor to install a penetrating solution by drilling a securing apparatus onto the roof or use a weight of some sort (e.g. brick or concrete) as a non-penetrating solution to weigh the system down. Not only does the securing solution add to the material costs, but also the additional labor costs to install this type of system. The steel system would reduce costs and complexity in both of these areas without adding significant weight gain.
How do JMC solar products help engineers design a more cost effective solution?
We have the broadest size range of steel tubular products in the industry (up to 22” square and 20” round). We also offer a wide variety of wall thicknesses in each of the tube sizes we manufacture. This helps the engineer to use a thinner tube which will still meet his performance requirements, but will also be lighter in weight and therefore more cost effective. In addition, we have a structural engineer on staff that can provide design services/expertise to our customers.
Tell us a bit about the latest project of JMC pertaining to stimulating schools with solar energy in California. What were the benefits of the project and what were the challenges that JMC faced during the proceedings of this project?
JMC Steel Group’s Atlas Tube division was called upon to manufacture 1200 tons of large size HSS squares and rectangles to be used for the San Ramon School District Solar Carport project. JMC Steel Group was asked to begin delivery of the product within 4 weeks of receipt of the purchase order from its customer PDM. By leveraging its strong relationships with steel coil manufacturers and trucking companies, JMC Steel Group’s Atlas Tube division was able to deliver the product on time. The order was placed in early April, 2011 and the first shipment was delivered by the end of the month. The balance of the order was manufactured and delivered before Memorial Day. As one of the few sources for this sized product in North America, it was critical that Atlas delivered, or the project completion date would have been in jeopardy. This is a testament to JMC Steel Group’s ability to leverage its resources across its company to exceed its customer’s needs. JMC Steel Group, along with many other companies are providing solar alternatives for energy use.
Increasing use of solar energy will help create more jobs for Americans and will also be a cleaner and cheaper source of energy. Hence, going solar will not only acting as a tremendous opportunity for our future generation but will also guarantee a cleaner future.