Iowa engineering firm sets an example for clients with solar

The Ideal Newsroom | 10.25.2018

French-Reneker Associates switches to solar power

FAIRFIELD, Iowa, (October 2nd, 2018) – French-Reneker-Associates, a southeast Iowa civil and environmental engineering company, is installing a solar array behind its office on South Main Street in Fairfield. The 40.8 kilowatt (kW) array will provide around 80% of the building’s electricity and save the company over $9,000 per year. In addition to saving the company an estimated $200,255 over the next 25 years, the array will also prevent 841 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere during that same period – equivalent to over two million miles of driving in a typical car.

For Steve Hausner, president of French-Reneker-Associates, slashing the company’s high utility costs was a priority. “When I took over as president four years ago I learned about some of the costs of running this business. I was quite surprised to see that our average electric bill was just over $1000 a month,” he said. “I thought, ‘That’s six or eight times more than I pay for my house, which is only 3 times smaller. What’s the deal here?’ So there was room for improvement on that electric bill.”

The company considered solar several years ago, but did not pursue it at the time. “We like to go with technologies that are tried and true, both in our designs and how we run our business. At that time solar was still relatively new in this area and we weren’t ready to jump on that just yet,” Hausner said.

In the years since, the price of solar has dropped and the technology has proven itself throughout the Midwest. Now, French-Reneker-Associates’ engineering staff is confident that solar is a sound decision. “It appears to me we could pay for this in three years, and after that we’re paying 20% of that $1000 monthly bill. That’s a pretty quick payoff,” Hausner said.

We could pay for this in three years, and after that we’re paying 20% of that $1000 monthly bill. That’s a pretty quick payoff.

–Steve Hausner, President, French-Reneker Associates

According to Ideal Energy, which designed and built the array, French-Reneker-Associates’ investment in clean energy has among the fastest payback periods seen so far in solar projects in the area. Aurelien Windenberger, finance and design expert at Ideal Energy, attributed the fast payback period to the falling cost of solar and the high price French-Reneker-Associates pays for electricity.

“French-Reneker is on a high-priced commercial utility tariff, but at 40 kW, the array was large enough to generate economies of scale,” Windenberger said. In addition, the company’s electric usage and utility rates are highest in summer, when solar production is also highest. A good location for a ground-mounted array with very little shade rounded out the factors that made the solar array an excellent investment.

French-Reneker-Associates also upgraded its lighting to LEDs. By switching to more efficient lighting before building the solar array the company was able to increase its savings and install only as much solar as it needed.

“Our solar system is sized with the LED lights,” Hausner said. Ideal Energy performed an energy audit and installed the lighting. “It made it very easy for us,” Hausner explained. “We didn’t have to deal with different contractors.”

The LED lighting has already saved money compared to this time last year. “The conversion from fluorescent to LED lighting represented about a 20% decrease in our electric usage right there,” Hausner said. “I was impressed to see that.”

French-Reneker-Associates, which primarily works with municipalities on projects ranging from roads to sanitary sewage to trail systems like the Fairfield Loop Trail, said that the solar project dovetails with the values of its customers. Fairfield and Bloomfield, two of the company’s larger customers, have significant solar projects of their own. “The solar array identifies that we have similar goals,” Hausner said.

For Hausner and his colleagues the most important consideration was the value they saw in their solar investment. “We’re engineers, we can figure the numbers out,” he said. “The numbers proved themselves.”

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