The California company announced this week that it has developed a process for pre-casting and shipping the concrete columns that form the trunks of its Solar Tree.
“In the past we always poured the columns in place,” said Envision CEO Desmond Wheatley.
It was a long and volatile process for installing solar panels. “We were at the mercy of the weather, prevailing wages, local labor and unions,” Wheatley said. That made costs unpredictable. But timing was also an issue.
The old process required several days for casting a mold, placing rebar and wiring the column and then 10 days for the concrete to settle and dry before Envision’s massive solar shade and mechanical rotator could be applied to the top. “And we knew the day would come when one of these things didn’t come out looking like it should,” Wheatley said. “We’ll just put it up to luck that it never happened.”
Envision Solar focuses on building visible solar arrays in an architecturally appealing way, which means the Solar Trees are usually going into high-profile parking lots, where clients don’t appreciate a drawn-out and messy process in their parking lots.
“Now we’re doing all of that in a controlled environment,” Wheatley said. “We’re no longer at the mercy of the field conditions.”
The columns are big and weigh about 7 tons, so shipping them is a challenge, but one Wheatley said the company has met with positive results.
Envision installed a Solar Tree at General Motors headquarters this week using one of its pre-cast columns. Wheatley was amazed by the efficiency of the process. “At 8 O’clock in the morning there was no Solar Tree there and by 10 O’clock in the morning there was one,” he said. “Instead of two weeks, it took two hours.”
Additionally, if there are any flaws in the form of the pillar, he said the client never has to suffer the consequences. The company can just send another, better one. Wheatley said there is a pleasant unintended consequence in this modularization as well.
“It takes 38 bolts to hold it in place,” he said. That means companies can redevelop their parking lots and keep their Solar Trees. They need only to undo the bolts and move the whole setup.
“We’re ignoring the advise of all those people who say we can’t do something,” Wheatley said. “They say we can’t. We do it and then those same people say now it’s the only way to do it.”