Genentech facility's solar panels tap into ever present energy source for power

It is almost always sunny in California. And to make sure that the sun’s power is harnessed in the right way Genentech’s Dixon, California, facility has recently installed solar panels on its parking lot to tap into this free source of renewable energy. This also marks Genentech’s first foray into the world of solar energy and is a step forward in Roche’s global efforts to use 20 percent of its energy needs from sustainable sources by 2020.

"Dixon is a laboratory facility about half way between San Francisco and Sacramento encompassing a staff of nearly 200 people,” says Martin Bettis of the Genentech Site Engineering team and program manager for the project. The project involved installing solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays on top of the parking lot canopies and on the building roof top. The parking lot canopies serve a dual purpose and provide shade to the cars as well as support the solar panels on its roof. This provides shade to about 50 vehicles.

“The 498 KW of power generated is used to provide electricity for the entire site. In the first few weeks of operation the amount of electricity generated by the system was equal to energy from over 1600 gallons of gasoline. Power can be generated pretty much year around as there is adequate sunshine even in winter. At the time of installation, it was estimated that the solar PV system installed could produce about 13 percent of the power consumed in a year at Dixon,” Martin notes.

The project was envisioned in 2012 and took about a year to design and install. “One of the hardest parts of the project was to select the correct design build solar photovoltaic vendor. The project also had to pass a rigorous financial calculation and create a Net Present Value. The tax incentives and rebates made this a viable project and sun shades were added as an added bonus for employee comfort,” Martin explains.

Shade and charge

While the panels have helped generate power for the Dixon campus, the shades are a welcome addition. “This will be very helpful in the coming summer months when it can get incredibly hot in Dixon California. The internal temperature of cars parked used to get dangerously high up to 60 degrees plus Celsius,” he points out.

In addition, his team also added four electric vehicle chargers that allow employees to charge their electric cars and purchase electricity to recharge their electric vehicles for the return trip home. “Now that we have installed these electric vehicle chargers more colleagues are planning to purchase electric cars and the response has been overwhelming positive,” says Martin.

In addition, the lobby received a computerized dashboard that shows how much power the panels are currently producing as well as the total amount of energy generated. The dashboard explains to employees how many tons of carbon dioxide emission was saved as well has how many light bulbs could be lit with the energy produced. The future plan for the Dixon facility is to consider another sustainable energy power source such as installation of a solar hot water system.

A Template for the Future

The Oceanside photovoltaic project will also serve as a template for future Genentech solar efforts, already underway at  Vacaville and South San Francisco sites. The projects are scheduled to come online in late 2016 and 2017, respectively.

The Vacaville team has chosen a solar provider and is currently working on its lease agreement. When complete, the installation is scheduled to produce seven megawatts of energy. In South San Francisco, separate systems totaling around four megawatts are currently in the planning stages.

Tags: Sustainability, Environment, Culture