Sun Storage poised to perform solar work on new Sustainability Center

Written by Katie Nesbitt, The Observer January 26, 2012 08:18 pm

Global exposure for a Wallowa County manufacturing business could be imminent if construction of the Oregon Sustainability Center in Portland begins this fall.

Sun Storage’s involvement in building the center would give the Enterprise company world-wide credibility and put it on the map as a leader in solar technology.

CEO Louis Perry said, as an Oregon-based company, Sun Storage is perfectly poised to capture much of the integrated solar construction of the Sustainability Center that will be incorporated into the Portland State University campus. An auditorium, classrooms, laboratories, offices and an interactive educational lobby are in the plans for the 133,000-square foot building.

More than two years ago, Sun Storage launched its prototype of a storage facility that comes complete with solar panels. Perry plans to use this concept in what the center’s designers call integrated construction.

“Our biggest growth area is in building integrated photovoltaic,” Perry said. “We’ve done this on a small scale with our original concept of a covered storage facility.”

The construction is touted as a “net-zero” energy building producing at least as much energy on-site as it uses while creating zero carbon emissions. One way the center’s construction will achieve this is through an array of photovoltaic cells that will blanket the building. 

Some of the groundbreaking technology incorporated into the design of the center is “bifacial panels” that let visible light pass through while generating electricity. The position of the building will optimize the capture of solar heat in the winter while shade canopies will work to shed heat in the summer.

Perry said Sun Storage will develop new products specifically for the building and is targeted to build the racking system for mounting the solar panels. Yet involvement in this project will not only position Sun Storage for manufacturing and installation work for its 10 full-time employees, but exposure across the world. 

Perry said, “An engineering firm attached to the project has already attracted attention from investors in Qatar because of its association with this project.”

More conventional building is less expensive, Perry said, but there are more than philosophical reasons to build green in a down economy. He added that green building is not just a regional fad.

Reducing dependence on fossil fuels and curbing carbon emissions may seem like “feel good” projects while unemployment rates are in double digits in some of Oregon’s counties, but Perry said public works projects can do good. Estimates by the project’s organizers are that 780 direct and indirect jobs will be created and more than $100 million could impact Oregon. Some of that impact will directly affect Eastern Oregon, he said.

“Oregon is really at the forefront of green building. Sustainability and energy efficiency are not just an Oregon thing,” said Perry.

The building is economically viable based on rents from tenants, Perry said, with nearly 70 percent of the space already committed. In addition, the building will serve as a working laboratory — faculty members across the Oregon University System have found 11 research projects that could bring in more than $7 million.

Right now the trick is selling the idea to the legislature to secure $37 million in state bonds. Criticism from last year’s session forced project managers to reduce the size of the building. An infusion of private sector, nonprofit foundations and federal funding may alleviate some of those concerns.

“The state can issue bonds to raise the money, with backing by state government. It’s not money from the state, but they take on the risk,” said Perry.

The broader view, Perry said, is the center’s construction will help the green technology industry.