Off-grid solar system brings energy transition to Alabama steel company


One of the largest steel manufacturing companies in the southern U.S. state of Alabama has turned to solar power to ease its energy burden in the face of rising electricity costs.

Apel Steel Corporation, which is based in Cullman, Alabama, employed local solar EPC company ACE, LLC Solar to construct for them a 340 kWh PV system designed to generate 470,213 kWh of AC solar power a year – meeting 98% of the firm’s energy needs in the process and all-but taking the company off the state grid.

The system used 1,088 Suntech PV panels mounted on to 45 Solar FlexRack Series G1L racking systems that were pre-assembled and specifically adapted to the local terrain and able to endure heavy wind, rain and snow.

Apel Steel expects that its new solar system will save the company more than $3 million in power bills across its 30-year lifecycle, aided by the additional installation of an onsite energy harvesting, monitoring and distribution system that will assist Apel Steel’s goal of becoming completely energy-independent.

ACE LLC Solar installed its patented energy.Station – a utility-scale monitoring and harvesting system with battery backup and smart user interface that takes Apel Steel seamlessly off the grid.

"The scope of this installation is a first of its kind on this scale with ACE, LLC Solar’s enerG.station bringing together the power of renewable energy and energy storage on a single platform," said Solar FlexRack CEO Tom Meola. "It represents true independence for businesses that want to install their own power stations and control their energy costs."

ACE, LLC Solar’s CEO Chuck Boggs revealed the difficulties wrought by the installation, which had to deal with a 10-degree off-level terrain and the state’s infamous heavy clay and rocky landscape. Despite these challenges, Boggs said, "we were able to achieve a flush, aesthetically pleasing panel configuration.

"Our field crew found that the design and functionality of the Solar FlexRack product made the overall solar installation process almost effortless. The compact and flexible nature of the product was a perfect fit."

Solar’s march across the U.S. has enjoyed meteoric success in many states, but some – like Alabama – have been slow on the PV uptake. In June, the state completed the construction of the Southeastern Solar Research Center (SSRC) in Birmingham; a development designed to better evaluate and ultimately improves the value and performance of solar power systems. Alabama Power, a leading state utility, has already expressed an interest in working more closely with the SSRC in order to better integrate solar power into its energy generation mix.