Concurrent Design showcases its new solar-powered EV charging project in Austin, Texas at a free event hosted by CleanTX. The installation can charge up to four vehicles at a time and will also provide power for the Concurrent Design building.
CleanTX, the clean energy and technology industry group for Central Texas, is hosting a free event on March 4 to demonstrate Concurrent Design’s new solar-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging project at their office in north Austin. The project is a unique collaboration between four Austin-based companies actively engaged in the solar industry: SolarBridge Technologies, Circular Energy, SolarWing, and Concurrent Design.
What makes this project different
Like many who go solar, Tom Ortman, president of Concurrent Design, had been thinking about it for a while — starting as far back as college. More recently, his company made a conscious decision seven years ago to start using cleantech in their business, an engineering design services firm. Self-described “mechanical engineering types,” they appreciated the applications of solar and other clean technologies so much that those have shifted from a supplementary area to the company’s primary focus.
So their first motivation in going solar, Ortman told PV Solar Report, “was that we wanted to walk our talk.” Developing their own solar solution was a natural extension of doing the same for their clients.
Another big motivation was to create a showcase project. Ortman explained, “Part of our stated mandate is to do everything we can to spread this idea and this knowledge.” They also had the goal of working collaboratively with others in the community, to help one another learn and in the process, get more business. And yes, Concurrent Design would also save money. Ortman noted, “All of us end up winning.”
The company first thought of putting solar on their roof. But they soon found that wouldn’t be feasible, because the roof was not structurally suitable.
That didn’t stop Ortman and his colleagues — it just led them to slow down and think about what they were doing. The result? Something much more special.
The building’s landlord was not at all interested in solar. To show him the benefits, Ortman collected stories of its economic value for commercial buildings. And that’s when he started seeing a trend. “The dead space of parking lots,” he said, “is yesterday’s story. If you put in shaded parking in Texas, you can charge $30-$40 a month. And if you add a solar carport, you can charge more to charge cars. It’s cheaper for drivers. And the landlord gets tax benefits and other incentives.”
“The landlord went from No, we can’t do this to Yes, we want it,” Ortman added.
Making the idea a reality
A surprise for Ortman was how long the project took — nine months from first discussing it to completion.
That had a lot to do with what made the project so special: the collaboration among five organizations.
The first step was picking the right collaborators. Austin is lucky to have a number of local module and inverter makers, racking system providers, and installers. The final lineup had to do with these factors:
SolarBridge was central in addressing shading issues with their microinverter, because there was no perfect place to install the solar system where it was not shaded. And the SolarBridge Management System can be used monitor real-time performance of each solar module.
The fact that the microinverter is sold as an integrated product with modules led to the choice of MAGE AC solar modules. Each AC module contains an integrated SolarBridge microinverter that directly converts the DC voltage into grid-connected AC power. AC PV systems can produce up to 25% more energy than conventional DC PV systems, and greatly simplify the design and installation of solar.
SolarWing won over Concurrent Design with their patented solar carport structure’s “elegant, sophisticated, sexy design.” Ortman noted, “We wanted to show off the idea that solar is sexy.”
Among installers, Circular Energy shared Concurrent Design’s excitement about making a showcase project. Using Circular Energy’s CURB software, Concurrent Design can see a breakdown of the consumption of the car charging station and other large building equipment.
The 7.5 kW two-canopy system will produce approximately 34 kilowatt-hours of solar energy a day and lets up to four employees or guests charge their vehicles at a time. Whatever power is not used to charge cars goes to the building and can supply 15% – 25% of the corporate consumption, depending on the time of year.
Another factor was how to finance the project. Concurrent Design looked into leasing, but Austin’s municipal utility doesn’t allow that. So they paid cash for the project.
The 30% investment tax credit and some allowed depreciation helped. And the Austin utility has a performance-based incentive for solar that will pay the company for every kilowatt-hour of solar power they send into the grid.
Their building lease was up for renewal, so Concurrent Design took the opportunity to also negotiate the solar project with the landlord. The upshot is that they own the project and can take it with them if and when they move.
Ortman acknowledged that while the project is economically beneficial, saving money was not the overriding goal. They picked the car charger, for example, “because it’s the sexiest-looking car charger available.” All part of making this a showcase project!
As Ortman noted, “We went a little overboard to make this an iconic installation.”
At Tuesday’s event, which is open to the public, attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about the project and view new EVs from Tesla, Chevy, Nissan, and Car2Go.
Ortman noted, “Over 400 people have already signed up for the event. People are interested in this.” He’s excited about the future of these technologies: “We can take energy for our homes and our transportation right out of thin air, and we can be driving on sunshine.”
Austin is a great place to showcase this. With its high-tech center and municipal utility that’s on its own grid, it’s prime for experimentation. As Ortman said of his company’s project, “It continues to be a learning exercise.”