COLUMBIA CITY — A medical device company located off SR 14 just outside Columbia City has had such a good experience with solar power generation that it plans to double its use of the sustainable energy.
Micropulse employs about 390 working in three shifts at a 160,000-square-foot building where it develops and manufactures medical implants, instruments, cases and trays and sterile packaging.
Late last year and early this year it spent close to $600,000 to have about 1,170 solar panels with a power generation capacity of 400 kilowatts per hour installed on the building’s roof.
“To date we’ve only used up about 20,000 square feet, so we have room to add more panels,” said owner Brian Emerick. “We are a very large consumer of electricity and every bit of power we generate at Micropulse, we consume.
“I think it’s just a good investment for business purposes. And the wonderful fringe benefit is, it’s renewable energy, so it’s good for the environment and it’s good for business,” he said.
“I believe that long-term it’s viable technology for the future. And personally I think solar is a better way to go than wind because there’s not mechanical activity happening, and with wind there’s a lot of maintenance.”
Because it converts sunlight into energy, Emerick said there is a widespread misconception that solar power is not a worthwhile investment outside of the nation’s more arid, sunny regions.
Going into the last week of June, Indiana had seen rain so frequently this year that its farmers had only had 27 days suitable for fieldwork since March. And Emerick estimates solar power generation at Micropulse is off only 15 percent from what it would be in a normal year.
The company’s solar array still generated about 50 megawatts of electricity in May and he expects June’s total to range between 55 megawatts and 60 megawatts, he said.
Indiana “may not be as good as some of the other states, but it’s still a great place for solar,” he said. “In the desert, when it gets really hot, the production goes down. So you’re better off with lots of sunshine and cooler temperatures.”
Federal incentives designed to encourage solar investment will allow owners to take 30% of the cost incurred for that this year off their federal income taxes, but the incentives won’t be around indefinitely, and will be reduced from this year’s level by 4% next year and by 8% the following year.
With a generating capacity of 400 kilowatts per hour, Micropulse gets about 8% of the power it uses from the solar array it activated in February. It plans to have 450 kilowatts per hour of additional solar generating capacity installed by the end of the year.
And even with a reduction in the federal incentive for solar power investment, “I think we’ll continue investing in solar as time goes on,” he said.
“As with any new technology, the efficiencies and cost improves, but the improvements are less and less as the technology matures.”
Based on the amount Micropulse pays Indiana Michigan Power for electricity, Emerick estimates the company’s solar array investment will pay for itself in savings within five to seven years.
And it expects to get 25 to 30 years of life out of its solar panels, he said.