BUFFALO, N.Y. — Despite what appears to be recent governmental efforts to quell renewable energy initiatives, the solar market is achieving record levels, as indicated in the “U.S. Solar Market Insight Report,” produced by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association. According to the report, the U.S. solar market had its biggest year ever in 2016, nearly doubling its previous record and adding more electric generating capacity than any other source of energy for the first time ever.
In Q1 2016, according to SEIA, solar hit one million installations, and the industry shows no sign of slowing down. In 2015 alone, 7.5 gigawatts were installed, and the cost of solar panels steadily dropped by 12 percent year over year, making it more affordable than ever for residential and commercial properties to utilize.
Helping that installation number grow is solar installation bright spot SolarCity, a 1.2 million-sq.ft. manufacturing facility and the crown jewel of the $750 million, 96-acre RiverBend project in Buffalo, N.Y., becoming the first city to produce the first-ever true solar roof — a roofing product with solar panels built in.
A concept developed in part by Elon Musk, SolarCity’s vision is to make solar technology affordable and easily accessible for everyone. Musk, who is also CEO of Space Exploration Technologies and Tesla Motors, serves as chairman of SolarCity, adding it to the ever-expanding list of innovative, energy-sustaining concepts he’s helped become reality.
Finding the right ‘fit’
General contractor LP Ciminelli selected Quackenbush, a company which has operated in Buffalo for the last 84 years, to install piping to all the HVAC wet systems, including condenser water, chilled water, tertiary chilled water, heating water and heat recovery water.
“We are always active in this area,” says Adrian Quackenbush, vice president of Quackenbush Co. “There’s a fair amount of construction in the western New York region over the last several of years, and we are proud to be involved in it.”
But the size of the building on the SolarCity project meant it would be a substantial undertaking for the contractor. “Given the speed and scope of the project,” says Scott Maze, senior project manager for Quackenbush, “we realized about a month-and-a-half into it that we would have difficulty sourcing enough qualified welders to complete our scope of work in a timely manner.”
The design team quickly came up with a viable solution: “Viega ProPress for 304 stainless,” Maze says, “used as another installation means for the tertiary chilled water.”
There was little to no learning curve for the installers, as Quackenbush had used Viega ProPress and Viega MegaPress systems in the past, so its workers were familiar with the benefits press technology could provide. “With the training Viega provided, the folks were able to pick up the installation fairly quickly,” Maze said. “The tools are user-friendly. Once you develop the system, you tend to pick up production and can step up your pace.”
Quackenbush had up to six people prefabricating the tertiary water lines and, in the field, two teams of eight. It only took three months to complete the ProPress piping installation throughout five mezzanines where the air handling units are located.
“The quality and consistency of Viega’s products provided us the ability to prefabricate part of the subassemblies at our facility,” Maze says. “We turned construction into production by assembling them in advance instead of individually constructing them in the field.”
When the Viega option became available, Paul Lepine, estimating manager for Quackenbush, approached his local Viega sales representative to find distribution that could handle the volume and the timeline of the SolarCity project.
Quackenbush needed to install 10,500 Viega ProPress for stainless fittings in various sizes and configurations. With so many fittings needed for the SolarCity project, the Viega rep had to chase specific fittings across the world in order to fill the order quantities Quackenbush needed. And that’s exactly what he did.
“He was instrumental in making this job happen from a delivery standpoint,” Lepine says. “We just placed an order for sixty 4" elbows two days ago, and he is collecting them now. Viega should be very happy with him. I don’t think he ever let us down on a request.”