Solar Power : Solar Has Printers JuicedNovember 2010 By Erik Cagle
When it comes to implementing enviro-friendly measures for conducting business, there are several rationales to consider. One is the politically correct answer: Doing everything possible to help Mother Earth, deep down, just feels right. After all, we don’t want to leave behind a mess for our children and our children’s children.
That philosophy is not everyone’s cup of tea. Not recycling a Yoo-Hoo bottle is not going to hasten the melting of the polar ice caps. Then again, IT MIGHT.
Secondly, many print buyers seek chain-of-custody certification (FSC, SFI, etc.) because their clients want every assurance that a product, and the way it is produced, is done with the utmost of environmental sustainability in mind. That is good for business and, frankly, you don’t need to buy into every greening practice du jour in order to see the benefits of winning more market share.
But when an environmentally-friendly measure directly deposits funds onto your bottom line, then a commercial printer has every right (nay, obligation) to shout at the heavens: I love going green!
Sorry to take the cynical approach here. The greening movement seems to have peaked, and the economy is still unfavorable for many types of capital equipment investments, so it takes a compelling argument to persuade printers to part with dollars that some may view as better kept in a bank account. But, for those companies that are firmly entrenched in their facilities, and don’t mind waiting five to 10 years for a return on investment (ROI), I have two words for you: Solar power.
Poised for Solar
Don’t take our word for it. We have the testimonies of two printers that recently made the decision to stop leaning on “the grid” for 100 percent of their energy needs. Making the move to solar has certainly left these businesses with a sunny disposition.
Alan Goltzman had long entertained the idea of installing solar panels at his company, Presswrite Printing in Minneapolis, but the move wasn’t feasible until recently. A visit to the Minnesota State Fair, where Goltzman got a more in-depth look at the hows and whys of installing solar panels, spurred him to ask more questions and make more phone calls.
Intrigued, Goltzman contracted a pair of solar technology providers to perform a site assessment and determine if the Presswrite Printing facility was optimally positioned to leverage the sun’s rays. Fortunately, the building faced the south, so the path was cleared for an installation.
“There were no building or any structural issues...nothing that was going to be in the way,” Goltzman says. “We looked at the (financial) incentives and decided that the time was right. It’s not a process for the faint of heart; it took eight months to install and we had to front all the money. You start getting the rebate money back after the system is installed and operational.”
The state and federal governments, along with Presswrite’s energy provider, all kicked in with grants that funded roughly 70 percent of the project. The system itself produces about 30 percent of the printer’s overall energy consumption. Goltzman projects his ROI to be about four years.
Visitors to Presswrite Printing’s Website can see, via an interface with the system, how much energy the printer is producing. Clients, not to mention prospects, have taken notice. Ditto for local businesses.
“We attracted one new customer because of it, and it’s made our current clients feel good about us using it,” Goltzman adds. “One client put it in his literature. I felt that if I attracted even one customer with the solar energy, it was well worth whatever I put into it. We’ve only been operational for five months, but it’s been extremely well-received and people are very interested in it. A business organization is coming in for a tour, and our local fire department came through to check it out. Another city’s government is coming to take a look for a pilot project on their building. To me, that’s very exciting.”
A somewhat similar experience was enjoyed by Lithographix Inc., of Hawthorne, CA. George Wolden, vice president of manufacturing, points out that his company had ample hand-holding during the seven-month process. The solar power system provider, the local energy concern (Edison) and the printer’s longtime electrician—which it has worked with frequently over the years for equipment installations and other projects—provided all the information necessary to make an informed decision at the outset, as well as throughout the process.
Here Comes the Sun
Lithographix’s solar system is fairly new, having gone live in December of 2008, and generates about 25 percent of the company’s needs (so to speak, since the power is sent back to the grid). One of the nicest aspects for the printer is the system’s hands-free operability.
“The power goes to these inverters and right back to the grid,” Wolden says. “It’s transparent to us; it just shows up on our electric bills as a credit. Honestly, I haven’t seen any issues with it.”
With California being one of the most energy-sensitive states in the union, the move to solar power was no small consideration for Lithographix. The company now saves approximately $460,000 a year on its power bill, and has increased its threshold with Edison (when a given area exceeds its threshold during peak usage times, Edison will ask its business customers to shut down).
“In California, people always ask what you’re doing about renewable resources,” Wolden adds. “Solar is really just part of it.”
But what a part it is, considering the bottom line. For the first five years, it’s a break-even proposition. The next five years, Lithographix will have some out-of-pocket expenses. After 10 years, it’s all ROI, which gives dual meaning to the phrase “going green.” PI