...Digging Deep | Solar Builder

Digging Deep

New Jersey’s SunDurance goes above and beyond with its customers, demanding difficult projects in order to carve a niche in the growing solar installation market.

The New York Jets’ training center requested 3,000 solar panels be installed by SunDurance on nearly every square-inch of rooftop available.

SunDurance Energy is about relationships not transactions.”

CEO Al Bucknam believes this is the secret to building a great business.

“Our mission is to be recognized as the most trusted, innovative and reliable builders of complex commercial megawatt solar power solutions in the industry,” he says. “We ensure repeat business with this offering.”

SunDurance serves the utility-scale, federal government and commercial/industrial markets by designing, building, operating and maintaining solar power projects. The company has been in business since 2007, but its history stretches back much further.

As part of the Conti Group — which formed in 1906 and also includes Conti Federal Services, Conti Enterprises and Alternity Wind Power — SunDurance launched four years ago to specifically develop solar photovoltaic (PV) market opportunities across America. Already engineering, designing and constructing large-scale wind and solar solutions since 2004 under Alternity Power, SunDurance continues to be committed to improving the environment by building and operating megawatt-scale customized solar power solutions.

The Conti Group as a whole is already a nationally recognized, $300 million construction company. So SunDurance focuses on complex megawatt-scale PV systems to reach a different clientele.

“Our sophisticated approach to projects ensures that the most demanding customers get more than they expected in a world where less seems to be the norm,” Bucknam says. “A key success factor is SunDurance Energy’s in-house design/build expertise, which enhances the speed and lowers the risk of project delivery. We self-perform the construction, which gives us quality control, valuable learning and ability to drive out costs.”

By keeping everything within the company, SunDurance is able to gain institutional knowledge and apply that to projects and provide the customer with a great experience. Being nearby a steady-stream of solar projects is helpful for the learning process, too.

SunDurance is located in the heart of America’s solar power installation base — Edison, N.J. New Jersey is second only to California when it comes to installed PV capacity. Solar power produces best in sunny yet cool conditions, and the Garden State is the perfect location. The majority of SunDurance’s work has been in its home state, but it has also worked with clients in North Carolina and Texas.

“SunDurance is actively expanding its reach across the United States, including the Northeast, the desert Southwest and California,” Bucknam says. “We will go wherever the solar incentives and policies make the most sense.”

In the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) 2010 Year in Review, it listed a wide range of states being most active in solar installation, from California, Arizona and Nevada to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida. Bucknam says the difficult part about staying on top of potential client areas is keeping track of state initiatives and policies, because they’re constantly changing.

“Our customers are located where the intersection of solar incentives and policies, grid electricity pricing and solar resources make projects financially attractive,” he says. “Each state is creating unique programs and has various funding levels and/or mechanisms, so tracking these programs is one of our greatest challenges.”

The economy may have been in a downfall for almost the entirety of SunDurance’s life, but the solar industry hasn’t noticed.

“The growth in the industry has been tremendous, particularly in light of the economy,” Bucknam says. According to SEIA, the solar market grew 67 percent in value in 2010, and it nearly doubled in size from $3.6 billion to $6 billion.

SunDurance had to drill 420 footings — some nearly 12 ft deep — in William Paterson University’s rocky soil to install solar panels on elevated parking lot canopies.

“The solar market has been in a growth stage for the past 10 years, and there is every indication that it will continue in the years to come,” Bucknam says. “To be sure, the economic downturn over the past two years has eroded the will of state and local governments to aggressively invest in alternative energy, yet growth has still been robust. With improvement in the economy, we believe we will see a resurgence in state and local incentives.”

In order to continue growing, Bucknam says more federal support is needed. Currently, the federal government provides a 30 percent tax credit/grant that is applicable across the nation. When coupled with the state incentives, building solar solutions are becoming more attractive to all.

And many are taking advantage of the situation. Universities, government facilities, large companies and an NFL football team have come to SunDurance for help in getting solar projects running.

A challenging project SunDurance took on in 2010 was one of the largest PV systems on a university campus. William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., is built on rocky soil. SunDurance had to drill 420 footings 6 to 12 ft deep to install 11,856 panels producing 2.7 MW. The panels cover both rooftops and elevated parking lot canopies. According to calculations, the university should save more than $3 million in energy costs.

William Paterson University took advantage of under-used space by installing 2.7 MW of solar power on rooftops and on elevated parking lot canopies.

The New York Jets requested 3,000 solar panels be installed on its training center’s roof in 2010. SunDurance completed the project in 100-plus degree heat to provide the NFL team with 690 kW and tens of thousands of dollars in electricity savings.

In Morris County, N.J., SunDurance built 19 systems on 16 separate sites to provide 3.1 MW of solar power in February 2011. The systems were built on rooftops and parking lots of schools, sports arenas and municipal buildings. Bucknam says that counties requesting solar on multiple facilities at one time is becoming the standard. Complicated and demanding projects are what SunDurance does best. Just recently, the company started its first ballasted ground array to be built on a New Jersey landfill, producing 3 MW. And the projects keep coming.

“We have developed partnerships with project developers, consultants, financers and suppliers that have all brought us project leads,” Bucknam says.

SunDurance was recently added to the Inc. 500 fastest growing companies list, ranking at No. 38 — further proving that really building relationships with customers essentially brings in more business.

“Our clients call us and only us during the [construction] process, which makes for efficient, easeful and timely communication. There are many solar integrators who claim to do this but really outsource several components of a project,” Bucknam says. “With SunDurance, there are no layers of communication. When you walk out onto the site to talk to the people building the project, you’re talking to SunDurance and can get your answer.

“We are 100 percent committed to service, quality and value for our customers.”


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