Real estate player Prologis enters solar field with innovative concept

Real estate player Prologis enters solar field with innovative concept  A California real estate company is diving into the solar market.

Prologis owns more than 600 million square feet of building space all over the world. The majority, 380 million square feet, is located in the United States. The buildings, mostly warehouses using little power, are spread throughout the country.

Drew Torbin, vice president of the renewable energy group for Prologis, said he was looking at the buildings and saw an amazing opportunity to capitalize on the roof space.

Most of Prologis’ clients don’t use a lot of power.

“They operate on laser-thin budgets in these distribution centers and warehouses,” Torbin said.

But that doesn’t mean there is not market for solar on the rooftops of those buildings.

“We’re not selling power to our customers, but we’re selling power on a wholesale level,” Torbin said. “That was our solar awakening.”

The company owns four buildings in an office park with a total of 200,000 square feet in Ontario, Calif. They’re all single-story buildings, which means they have 200,000 square feet of roof space as well.

Last year, Prologis installed 7.6 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels on those roofs.

It’s distributed generation, which means it’s easy to connect, and there are no issues with transmission, Torbin said.

“But when you put them all together, you can compile something that’s utility scale,” Torbin said.

And that allowed the company to take advantage of more financing opportunities and made the company’s projects more attractive to utility companies.

“It took about six months to build these,” Torbin said. “But we permitted this in just four weeks. You’re not going to find any endangered species on rooftops.”

Torbin followed another presenter at the Solar Power Generation USA conference in Las Vegas who discussed long-drawn-out permitting processes on ground-mounted utility-scale solar installations involving concessions like raised fences for foxes.

“We’re going to be generating electricity where people live and where people use it,” Tobin said. “It almost makes too much sense.”

Prologis installed about 75 megawatts of solar on rooftops it owns around the world by the end of 2011, Torbin said. And the company is just getting started.

It began by funding each project individually, but now has credit with the Bank of America and is actively growing its distributed utility-scale solar program.