Santa Barbara just got one more business with solar panels, and this business looks out at the water on Stearns Wharf. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center celebrated the Sea Center’s new 160 solar panels soaking up the sun. This collaborative project between Community Environmental Council, Asteri Solar, Sun Pacific Solar Electric and Mission Wealth installed the 52-kilowatt solar electric system as part of CEC’s Solarize Nonprofit program.
Estimates predict the new system to provide approximately 50 percent of the Sea Center’s electricity for the next 25 years.
“That’s about $12,000 of savings a year,” Museum President and CEO Luke Swetland told the News-Press. You just multiply that over the 25 to 30 year-life of this system. That’s like a third of a million dollars.”
The savings, with a rate of $12,000 per year, could range from $300,000 to $360,000, depending on how long the system lasts. These savings are significantly larger than the cost of the project. Mr. Swetland told the News-Press, “This is probably a quarter million dollar project.”
So what are the benefits of going solar for the Sea Center?
“Because we have live collections here at the Sea Center, all of our life support systems, all the pumps that move water through these tanks have to run 24/7. We’re using a significant amount of electricity for the size of this facility. Anything we can do to reduce the amount of electricity that we use is just a big kind of win for us both financially and from sustainability,” said Mr. Swetland. “When we can get savings in things like these fixed costs, then that gives us more dollars, discretionary dollars, to invest in the programs that we deliver to families, residents and tourists every day here at the Sea Center.”
With these benefits to gain, the Museum team was looking for a way to make the project a reality. That is when CEC’s Solarize Nonprofit program came through.
The pilot program aims to help local nonprofits go solar and run off renewable energy without upfront costs. The program was born out of CEC’s Residential Solarize program, which has assisted 800 homeowners go solar. The Sea Center’s installation was funded by CEC, Asteri Solar and Mission Wealth. Local business Sun Pacific Solar Electric installed the panels.
James Taylor, a member of the Sun Pacific team that installed the solar panels, told the News-Press that the steepness of the Sea Center’s roof made the process challenging. Mr. Taylor did say, however, that the height of the building, as scary as it was, gave him and his colleagues a chance to soak in the gorgeous view of Santa Barbara’s water and mountains.
Another member of the installation team, Connor Nakao, agreed with Mr. Taylor.
When asked what was the most difficult part for him, he said, “Probably just being on the steepness,” adding that even with the safety harnesses around, it was still challenging. But, Mr. Nakao said, the view was beautiful.
“We love a good challenge,” said Sun Pacific’s CEO Cecilia Villaseñor Johnson. “We spent a long time designing this system to best meet the Sea Center’s goal. Because of the amount of water pumping in the exhibits and the high electricity bill, it was essential for us to maximize the roof space, SunPower panels are really the only choice because not only do they make the highest efficiency panel on the market with the longest warranty, but they are also the only panel manufacturer to warranty their product in a marine environment. We hope that the visibility of this project inspires others to go solar…”
The Sea Center is the fifth nonprofit to complete installation through the Solarize Nonprofit program. Others are Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Central Coast-Santa Maria Campus, and Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.