Innovation and solar energy drive POET forward
POET has always been an industry leader in clean energy. From biofuels that reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions to renewable bioproducts created from surface-of-the-earth ingredients, POET has been on the leading edge of the Renewable Revolution for over thirty years. Now, POET is adding to its suite of renewable solutions with the construction of its first solar farm.
The POET Solar Farm will help power the company’s corporate headquarters in Sioux Falls, S.D. It will also showcase POET’s ability to construct similar solar projects for others, adding yet another sustainable service to their ever-growing portfolio.
Rod Pierson, Senior Vice President and General Manager for POET Design and Construction (D&C), noted the two-fold purpose of the solar farm. First, to generate solar power and reduce the carbon intensity of POET’s corporate headquarters and also to showcase POET’s expertise in producing a state-of-the-art solar field.
“Realistically, we began developing solar projects for our plants, so to a much larger scale than in Sioux Falls,” said Pierson. “As we were investing in that, we thought we’d start with our office. It makes sense because it demonstrates that we can do it, and we’ve identified a few key things that will help solar construction on a larger scale at our biorefineries.
“This is a pretty big opportunity for POET to take a step in our goal to always improve in sustainability and carbon reduction — to show that it’s not just our plants that are driven to be greener, but our office headquarters as well.” Rod Pierson, Senior Vice President and General Manager for POET Design and Construction
The solar farm will generate around two-thirds of the electricity needed to power the POET office. It will produce 745,000 kWh of electricity each year, offsetting 630,000 pounds of CO2. Any excess power generated by the farm will go back to the Sioux Falls grid to supply local homes and buildings with clean, renewable power. The energy collected will not only make POET headquarters more sustainable but the Sioux Falls community as well. POET D&C will also contract out to build solar farms for other businesses interested in sustainable practices.
“I see this as an opportunity to do more for other companies in the region.” Rod Pierson, Senior Vice President and General Manager for POET Design and Construction
“We can help those that are interested in reducing their carbon footprint and their electrical costs. A solar farm like POET’s offsets the cost of electricity and pretty quickly pays for itself and the cost of construction,” said Pierson.
Office buildings like POET’s benefit the most from solar energy because team members are only in the building during the daytime. The electrical load of the building is highest during the day when the sun is shining, so solar energy is a good fit as a clean, renewable power source.
Pierson points out that solar energy is also a good fit for POET’s bioprocessing facilities. “Similar to our office building, but even more importantly, our plants will benefit from solar fields. A solar farm for a plant would have a lot more carbon intensity reduction. The addition of a large-scale solar field would reduce carbon intensity by three or four points in our bioethanol production.”
In a recent study from Environmental Health and Engineering, researchers found that greenhouse gas emissions from bioethanol are 46% lower than gasoline. The study attributed a carbon intensity (CI) score to bioethanol that looked at the entire lifecycle of bioethanol — from field to freeway. More importantly, the study demonstrated how the utilization of renewable energy sources, such as solar power, in the production of bioethanol will further drive emissions reductions, increasing the possibility of achieving net-zero biofuel in the future.
For Jim Hill, POET’s Process Automation/Electrical Engineering Manager, there is plenty of untapped potential in the field of solar power generation.
“Although generating electricity using solar energy has been around for decades, it has been very expensive and has had limited capacity,” said Hill. “In the last three to five years, the cost of installing solar has decreased in some cases by over 50%, with all trends indicating solar becoming even more affordable in the future. Even with the megawatts of solar energy being installed each year, I feel solar is still in its infancy stages, which puts POET in a great position to continue to build large scale solar farms.”
Put simply, solar energy is one of the cleanest, greenest ways to power operations for companies like POET and other corporate entities looking to move into more sustainable practices.
“Solar is definitely a renewable energy source that is here to stay. With POET setting the example for all businesses in Sioux Falls, hopefully others will follow suit.” Jim Hill, POET’s Process Automation/Electrical Engineering Manager
As a part of the building process, local POET team members had the opportunity to volunteer to help with the construction. Working in small groups, team members assembled and installed solar panels on top of support beams mounted by contractors.
Pierson explained why some elements of construction and implementation were opened up to team members. “We invited team members to help for a few reasons. First, to give people a chance to see the solar farm and be close to it. As soon as the solar farm is up and running, unauthorized personnel won’t be able to enter the field for their safety. Secondly, at POET we give all of our team members an opportunity to be a part of the endeavors our company takes on.”
“We’re a team here, and this shows that every person can be an influential part of what’s happening at POET. These individuals can now look at the farm every day and say ‘I did that. I helped build that.’” Rod Pierson, Senior Vice President and General Manager for POET Design and Construction
As the climate crisis continues to grow, the team at POET remains dedicated to their mission of being good stewards of the environment.
Jeff Broin, Founder and CEO of POET, points out the importance of always striving towards improvement and setting an example of sustainability for others.
“As climate change impacts our world, it is time we find innovative ways to provide for ourselves and our communities in a way that is in sync with nature,” said Broin. “POET is proud to lead our communities away from dependence on fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable future using the sun, the soil and the seed.”
Construction on the POET solar farm began in June and ended in August.