Normally, I don’t write about solar products, since this blog is devoted to solar marketing and solar advocacy. But I’m making the exception this week for Spotlight Solar. Spotlight’s not a typical BIPV solution, but a working aesthetic solar structure that’s also a green PR solution that calls attention to hidden solar.
For example, say you’re the St. Louis Rams, and you’re greening your operations, from recycling and waste reduction, to energy efficiency and the use of recycled materials.. Congrats! …Except despite these good intentions, nobody notices. That’s where Spotlight comes in.
With Spotlight’s main product, Lift, shown above, each tower is fitted with 3kW of Lumos solar panels with clear glass backsheets. While Lift is grid connected, its 3kW of solar is not about reducing a building’s carbon footprint or utility bills—although they do. It’s also not meant to be a substitute for carports or other rooftop PV that generate 100s of kW of solar.
Instead, Spotlight Solar’s Co-Founder and CEO Craig Merrigan says their products are meant to be a complementary added value, calling attention to the real solar solution—rooftop or ground-mount panels that are out of site or difficult to see. Alternatively, they could also be calling attention to other invisible sustainability efforts by the building’s architect, such as the St Louis Rams’s green initiatives.
For example, there are many renovated buildings today that have achieved LEED Platinum status, but beyond the press release, a LEED medallion, or perhaps a small lobby display, the general public might walk on by and never realize that there are solar panels on the roof or that the structure was built with ultra high-efficiency windows, reclaimed wood, and 100% LED lighting. From the outside, it looks like a normal renovated building.
However, with a Spotlight tower, the same building’s visitors and tenants know their building is green from two blocks away. As a result, Spotlight is part art, part landmark, and part green architecture, and of course, all solar.
Although designed to be attractive, Merrigan stresses that Spotlight’s structures are intended to look like a machine. He said, “We want it to look beautiful, but we don’t want it to look like an art project that happens to have solar. We actually optimize for production, so there’s a lot that goes into engineering and design to make it efficient to build, flexible, and avoid shading itself. So, it definitely scores well on solar functionality criteria.”
In fact, there are many functional uses for Spotlight and its various designs. Co-founder, Rob Surra, Spotlight’s Chief Design Officer, mentions that half of the company’s 14 installations have been integrated with electric vehicle charging stations. “It helps the EV chargers be positioned more smartly, and visually highlights the stations, so that you’re ‘powering your car in the sun.’ ”
Other potential uses for Spotlight might be for public spaces for cities that want to call attention to their sustainability efforts. After meeting its carbon reducing goals, a city could create Spotlight bus stations/cell phone chargers, or perhaps a field of Spotlight structures at a playground or public park with the company’s new Flora design:
Aside from EV charging stations, Spotlight systems have been “planted” at several schools, a solar business, outside a City Hall in Gresham, OR, outside the Discover Place science museum in Charlotte, NC, as well as the Rams’ installation.
Surra, who has won several awards for architectural products that take a modular approach, designs Spotlight products to be easy for commercial solar installers to assemble and arrange with standardized parts and equipment. For aesthetic reasons, most structures use string inverters, but micro-inverters are possible and may be more practical with some installations. As for panels, they now use 250W Lumos modules for their performance and aesthetics, since they have clear backsheets and look like solar panels from underneath. (Formerly, they used Stion thin-film panels.)
As an educational component, all Spotlight installations come with a visual display for the building’s lobby, where visitors can learn more about the structures and their current solar production.
Spotlight structures are essentially another method of effective solar guerrilla marketing. It stands out, it educates, and… it’s a great way to UnThink Solar.