By Tim Schlee
With alternative energies on the rise, self-storage owners must decide if, when and how they want to use them. Solar energy is a popular one, and it makes sense for many storage sites. Why not harness the power of the sun, an inexhaustible energy source we encounter every day? Many facilities around the nation are doing just that, but it’s still a massive and expensive undertaking.
Although solar-panel installation is cheaper than ever before (solar panels are 99 percent cheaper now than they were 35 years ago), it’s still a costly venture. With so much money at stake, self-storage operators should do their research to determine if it’s worth the investment. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a list of questions to help steer you in the right direction.
1. What Is Solar Energy?
There’s no such thing as a dumb question. If you don’t know anything about solar energy, you certainly won’t know whether it’s right for your business. Luckily, it’s not hard to find resources out there to learn about it.
In brief, solar panels, developed in 1954 by Bell Laboratories, convert sunlight into electric currents. This allows us to harness the incredible amount of energy we receive every day from the sun and put it to use in our normal, functioning power grids. Once you know a little about what solar power is, the next step is deciding how you want to use it.
2. Do I Receive Enough Sunlight?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how eco-friendly you are—if your facility doesn’t receive enough sunlight, solar energy isn’t right for you. Does your locale get a lot of sun? Do you have trees or some structure, such as a chimney, that will shade the panels during parts of the day? Does your facility have south-facing roofs (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case you’d want north-facing roofs)?
The less sunlight your panels receive, the less energy you’ll generate. And the less energy you generate, the longer it will take your solar-power system to pay for itself.
3. Is My Facility Suitable?
Self-storage facilities are in many ways ideal for solar power. Most are single-story buildings spread out over a large area—that is, they have lots of roof area, and more roof area equals more room to place solar panels. Many facilities throughout the nation are installing solar-power systems.
But not all facilities are created equal. The condition of your building, particularly your roof, could play a role in its suitability for solar power. Roof materials should be expected to last as long as the solar panels themselves (about 25 to 30 years). If your roof is old and crumbling, you’ll need to patch or even replace it before installing the panels.
Of course, solar panels don’t need to be roof-mounted. If your facility has enough open land, a solar array could be mounted directly into the ground.
4. What Are My Goals?
This is the most important question. Once you’ve figured out whether solar energy is reasonable for your property, you need to determine your goals. If it’s to completely power your facility and sell the surplus back to the energy supplier, you’ll need a different kind of system (and a lot more funds) than if you’re merely looking to shave 25 percent off your energy bill.