Solar Panel Firm Opening a Memphis Branch Office

Published March 2, 2012

The Commercial Appeal March 2, 2012
By Tom Bailey Jr.

A Nashville-based company that installs solar-panel systems is opening a branch office in Memphis.

“We believe Memphis is a wonderful market,” said David Weiler, marketing and sales director for LightWave Solar.

It’s the same firm that is building the million kilowatt solar farm at Agricenter International.

But its customers here will be residential as well as institutions, businesses and nonprofit groups. “Anybody who’s interested in solar,” Weiler said.

“Any for-profit that’s looking at it as an investment to get the advantages of tax credits. We also have good funding solutions so even nonprofit and churches can participate. We’ve got access to funding sources that would love to invest in solar installations for churches and nonprofits.”

In the Nashville area, LightWave Solar’s work is evenly split between houses and businesses/institutions, though the business/institutional projects are bigger, Weiler said.

Architect Peter Calandruccio will head LightWave Solar’s Memphis office. He’ll be the firm’s solar consultant for West Tennessee.

“The Agricenter project should spur more installations in and around Memphis,” Calandruccio said in prepared remarks. “It’s long overdue, and I’m excited to be a part of the growth.”

The Agricenter installation, the company’s largest so far, is to be finished by the end of the month.

It’s also the largest solar farm in Tennessee with a “single-axis tracking system.” That means the solar panels automatically move to stay aimed at the sun, which can result in 20 percent more power.

The Agricenter project involves the installation of 4,160 solar panels, all made by Memphis’s Sharp Manufacturing.

The Agricenter solar farm “has really kicked off our expansion into Memphis,” said Steve Johnson, president of LightWave Solar. “We’ve always wanted to have a larger presence here, especially since this part of the state receives the most solar resource and makes for an even more attractive investment.”

It’s true, said National Weather Service meteorologist Marlene Mickelson. Memphis gets a little more sun on average than Tennessee’s other large cities.

Memphis experiences thunderstorms 53 days a year, Nashville 54 days and Chattanooga 55 days, she said, citing the latest but relatively old data.

LightWave measured the sunshine a bit differently. Memphis averages 5.1 hours “of perfect” sunshine a day over a year, while Nashville averages 4.9 hours and Knoxville averages 4.7 hours, Weiler said.

The flatter terrain and lower elevation of Memphis are factors, Mickleson said.

A nonprofit group or church alone might be reluctant to install solar panels because they couldn’t take advantage of the tax credits.

But third-party investors are willing to foot the bill, take the tax credit, share with the nonprofit some of the revenue from power sales and, after about 10 years, sell the system to the church at a depreciated price, Weiler said.

In Nashville, for example, the company is installing a 400 kilowatt system on that region’s Goodwill headquarters.

Unshaded homes with good roofs that face south are strong candidates for residential installations, Weiler said. Tree-shaded homes aren’t good settings, unless there’s a sunny yard of about 5,000 square feet for ground-mounted panels.