The Coffee Shop NE at 2852 Johnson Street made history last month as the first business on the busy “Main Street” of the Audubon neighborhood to install solar panels on its roof.
Owners of the neighborhood hangout invited friends and neighbors in for a ribbon-cutting celebration March 27, although no one actually ventured onto the roof (for safety reasons).
Co-owner Rich Horton said the project came about because the historic building – it was built in 1938 – needed a new roof. “It seemed like a good time to check out solar power,” he said.
The building is now covered with a heat-reflecting white foam roof that insulates the building, keeping the heat out in the summer and the heat in during the winter. The 64, 50-lb. solar panels are held onto the foam with ballast.
Brian Keenan, sales representative for Innovative Power Systems (IPS), the company that installed them, said the project began a year ago in March, when The Coffee Shop NE first inquired about solar. “By May we had a contract drawn up and started the formal design stage,” he said. As a part of the process, IPS applied for a Minneapolis building permit. The city required a historic preservation review and a structural engineer to assess the integrity of the building. “We worked with Xcel on the engineering review and agreement for interconnecting the system to their grid. We also handled the Xcel Solar Rewards incentive program application.”
Horton said the rewards program will give him a rebate check for the first seven years the solar array is operation. The array has been operating since November 2017.
The panels were supplied by Norway- based REC Solar and are 99 percent efficient. Keenan said they each kick out 310 watts of power, about what three home solar systems could produce in a year. The Coffee Shop NE will get about 24,000 kilowatt hours per year from its array. It would take 2,000 gallons of gasoline or a ton of coal to produce the same amount of energy.
Horton said the array won’t supply all his power needs, but will cut down his energy expenses. “Depending on the time of year, it could provide up to 25-30 percent of the shop’s power.” The business expects to save more than $40,000 in electricity costs over the next 25 years.
The unique “NE” array of the panels was not part of the original plan, said Keenan. “We usually just install them in a rectangle,” he said. The building roof has a load capacity of 6 lbs. per square foot. A typical rectangular array would have exceeded the load limit, so the array needed to spread out across the roof to even the load.
“The cool design is a bonus, showing our love for the community,” said Horton. And the community loved back. Within hours of posting an aerial photo of the roof on the Coffee Shop NE’s Facebook page, they received 4,000 views and 1,000 likes.
Below: The Coffee Shop NE’s solar array with its unique “NE” design, which was a solution to distribute the load over a wider area than the usual rectangle, and stay within the building’s load limit. Ribbon cutting on March 27. (Drone photo supplied by Innovative Power Systems; ribbon cutting by Cynthia Sowden)