Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Environmental Engineering Firm Goes Solar

Sunil Agrawal and other executives from Nova Consultants plan to attend the unveiling Monday of one of the state's largest solar power systems in Michigan at Monroe County Community College.

The $3-million, 500-kilowatt system was designed and constructed by Nova as part of DTE Energy's utility-owned SolarCurrents program.

Agrawal, 55, said the project is just one of several major solar-power systems that the firm has completed over the past two years as the company has transformed itself from an environmental engineering company into an installer of solar power systems.

In 2009, Nova won an $18.5-million contract from DTE Energy to serve as the utility company's exclusive contractor for SolarCurrents.

SolarCurrents is a residential and commercial program created by DTE Energy to help the utility meet the requirements of energy legislation adopted in 2008 by the state. The law requires 10% of power generated by Michigan utilities to come from renewable energy by 2015.

Nova also has either completed or is designing projects for Ford, General Motors and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

"We reinvented ourselves by getting into energy," Agrawal said.

Founded by Agrawal in 1992, Nova Consultants grew to as many as 70 employees by 2001 as an environmental consulting company. But in 2008, as the economy started to sour and the construction industry ground almost to a halt, Nova had to lay off employees and search for a new identity.

Nova first turned its attention to commercial lighting and energy-management projects.

At about that time, Sachit Verma, Nova's program manager for energy projects, installed solar panels on his own home. Shortly after that, Nova also installed solar panels on the roof of its offices in Novi. "We have not paid a single cent of electricity in 13 months," Agrawal said.

Verna said advances in solar panels in recent years have reduced the cost from about $5 to $6 per watt to about $2 per watt. And while many people think solar power works best in states such as Arizona, he said Michigan is actually a better climate.

"Solar panels work best when it is sunny and cold," Verma said.

In 2009, Nova was one of 35 companies that applied to be DTE Energy's contractor for SolarCurrents.

"I think their attention to detail was the key, as well as truly understanding what our requirements for the program were," said Ray Zoia, program manager for DTE's SolarCurrents program.

Since winning the work, Nova has hired about 25 employees and expects annual revenue to grow from $7 million in 2010 to $10 million this year.

Now, Nova is competing for the next phase of the SolarCurrents program, which is much larger. The projects in the first phase add up to a combined 3 megawatts of power while the second phase is for 12 megawatts, Zoia said.

While Nova is anxiously waiting DTE's decision, which is expected in early May, Nova continues to handle other environmental consulting work, such as mercury monitoring and mercury remediation, removal of asbestos, as well as designing and installing steam heating systems.

But Agrawal is convinced that the advances in solar power as well as the country's growing desire to decrease its reliance on traditional energy sources puts Nova in the right place for the future.

"It took us a long time to convince people that solar is a real thing, that it can supply real power," Agrawal said. "Oil and hydrocarbons are ingrained into our culture so much that we always think that is the only way to get energy. But actually there are many other ways to get energy."

SOURCE: http://www.freep.com/article/20110417/BUSINESS06/104170485/Transforming-solar-power-helped-reinvent-company

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