Advanced Manufacturing Powered with Solar & Storage

Ideal Energy develops ground breaking solar + storage project for leading Iowa manufacturer Agri-Industrial Plastics Company

Agri-Industrial Plastics Company (AIP), a leading manufacturer of blow molded plastic parts, will soon begin construction of a 517 killowatt (kW) solar array supplemented by a battery energy storage system at its facility in Fairfield, Iowa. This is the first solar project in the Midwest to incorporate an industrial lithium-ion battery system. It is also the first solar + battery energy storage system implemented by a large manufacturer in Iowa.

Lori Schaefer-Weaton, president of AIP, said the decision was motivated by a desire to control the company’s high utility costs. “I’m an accountant so I like to talk about ROI,” said Schaefer-Weaton, referring to return-on-investment. “The ROI is there.”

The solar + storage system will save the company over $42,000 per year and pave the way for additional growth. The installation will also prevent 9,377 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere over the next 25 years – equivalent to over 10 million pounds of coal.

Why Solar + Storage?

Solar panels alone are a great fit for many businesses, but not all customers can benefit from them. Manufacturers running energy-intensive machinery at night, for example, require a more advanced solution to manage their power needs. Battery storage can provide that solution by extending the usefulness of solar energy.

Battery energy storage systems are more than just batteries. They are at the cutting of edge of the renewable energy industry. Battery storage can be used for emergency backup, off-grid homes, and more, but its most important application is peak shaving.

Peak shaving cuts expensive demand charges by reducing electricity consumption during peak usage times like summer afternoons. Not all electric users have demand charges, but for businesses with demand charge tariffs, they can be very expensive. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), demand charges can account for 30% to 70% of a customer’s utility bill.

While solar arrays alone can help alleviate demand charges, they aren’t as effective as battery energy storage. Battery energy storage systems can guarantee that no power above a predetermined threshold will be drawn from the grid during peak times. They can automatically detect when power usage exceeds a predetermined threshold and switch from the grid or solar panels to batteries until the additional demand is over. When demand goes back down, the batteries recharge.

Solar + storage is the best way to peak shave. Although peak shaving can be implemented by other means – for example, with diesel generators or by manually powering off certain machines at certain times – those methods have significant downsides. Diesel generators are expensive, loud, and generate pollution. Turning off machinery manually is inconvenient and may not be possible for many customers. Battery energy storage has fewer downsides than these alternatives. It also makes solar viable for more customers, which in turn generates additional solar savings not related to demand charges.

High demand charges?

Work with an Ideal Energy expert to discover how battery energy storage systems can help.

Solar: a Challenge – and Opportunity – for Manufacturers

Manufacturing is energy intensive. The extrusion blow molding machines at AIP use a substantial amount of electricity and cannot easily be powered down when not in use. As a result, it makes sense to run those machines constantly. “We run 27 lines 24 hours a day,” Schaefer-Weaton said. “These are huge utility bills.”

Above: President Lori Schaefer-Weaton tours a a group of students around AIP’s advanced manufacturing facility Below: Robotics at work.

Manufacturers have a very different load profile than schools or office buildings. They experience daily spikes rather than the seasonal spikes that are common in buildings where electricity usage is dominated by air conditioning. In AIP’s case, there is a predictable spike in energy usage towards the end of each of the three daily shifts when workers are busy finishing their assigned tasks.

Businesses like AIP that run 24 hours a day also have consistent load profiles. Because AIP runs three shifts its power usage stays high, even at night. Solar alone works best for businesses that use more power during the day. Battery energy storage systems extend the usefulness of solar panels by allowing 24-hour operations to maximize the potential of their daytime solar generation.

Lithium-ion batteries, provide the ideal solution for manufacturers. Compared to most other types of batteries, they are lighter and smaller per kilowatt-hour, can operate at a lower state of charge, and are better suited to high cycling applications. Lithium-ion batteries are ideal for daily cycling and have a lifetime of 5000 charge-discharge cycles. This makes the technology a perfect fit for manufacturers.

At the Cutting Edge

Ideal Energy, one of Iowa’s leading solar energy firms, is designing and building the array and installing the battery system. Ideal Energy installed the first solar + storage system in the state for Coralville retailer Stuff Etc and has been a pioneer in the battery energy storage field in the Midwest.

Ideal Energy continues to blaze a trail with this project. Agri-Industrial Plastics Company will be the first manufacturer in Iowa with a battery energy storage system. This project will also be the first large-scale commercial lithium-ion storage installation in the Midwest.

Recognizing the cutting edge nature of the project and the potential of solar + storage in Iowa, the Iowa Economic Development Association (IEDA) awarded a $200,000 research grant to the Fairfield Economic Development Association (FEDA) to study the AIP installation as well as another large-scale solar + storage installation Ideal Energy is building for Maharishi University of Management. These are Iowa’s largest solar + storage projects and among the most innovative renewable energy projects in the Midwest.

At A Glance:

Agri-Industrial Plastics Solar + Storage Power Plant


Manufacturing is Iowa’s largest industry – larger even than agriculture. AIP’s installation has implications statewide. According to the (spell out what NREL stands for) NREL, Iowa has among the highest demand charges in the nation and is in the top 10 states with the most commercial customers paying demand charges over $20/kW. NREL research shows that Iowa may have 23,000 or more customers who could benefit from solar + battery energy storage technology.

“Battery storage is a huge leap towards energy abundance,” said Troy Van Beek, founder and CEO of Ideal Energy. “It’s generating tremendous savings, which drives business growth, economic growth, and job growth. Our goal is to become our customers’ energy partner so they’re in charge of their energy use and they control their energy costs. Storage is a big part of that. We’re continuing to push the envelope to see what storage can do for our customers. There’s great potential here.”

Above: A rendering of the 517 kW array, at Agri-Industrial Plastics. Construction will begin late autumn, 2018.

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