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Catching Some Rays

With a new solar array set to power much of its Livermore campus, Topcon Positioning Systems looks to an increasingly sustainable future.

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Many of today’s highly successful executives and business leaders believe that taking positive environmental action and ensuring profitability for their shareholders are mutually exclusive concepts. One can only be achieved, they believe, at the expense of the other. However, scores of organizations worldwide have proven the folly of such thought, successfully embracing a “green” profile, while reporting solid, if not improved, bottom lines. To that growing list of successful entities add Topcon Positioning Systems, which recently installed a solar power capability to its multi-structure campus in Livermore, California. Far more than simply offsetting utility costs for decades to come — which it will — the company feels that the rooftop and carport arrays will allow them to build upon an already-robust commitment to sustainability. And in no way will it adversely affect their position as one of the world-leaders in the design and manufacture of quality geopositioning products and solutions.

 A benefit to people, profits and the planet? Make that mutually inclusive.

Big Plan on Campus

Topcon Positioning Systems’ Livermore location is home to more than 400 employees and consists of three separate high-rise structures as well as a 60-acre training center adjacent to one of those buildings. According to Yesica Coronado, Senior Manager of North America Property Management, the idea of adding a solar power capability is hardly a new one for Topcon.

“The topic was first discussed a few years ago and was actually to the point where we met with a few vendors,” she said. “When the pandemic hit, however, many of our employees were forced to work remotely, so the move was somewhat ‘back-burnered.’ But, once things started to recover, knowing the importance solar could hold for us on a number of different levels, we revisited it and got things moving again.”

The “number of levels” to which Coronado refers include, of course, the monetary savings which will be substantial. Company projections for Phase One of the two phase project alone show a 100%-103% energy offset, resulting in a savings of roughly $352,000 in electricity costs. It also counts the environmental benefits realized through the reduction of Scope 2 (purchased electricity) emissions.

“And, because the project will include both the expansion of existing charging stations for electric vehicles (EV) and the creation of new stations, many Topcon employees will also be direct beneficiaries of the project,” added Coronado.

"The idea of adding a solar power capability is hardly a new one for Topcon."

- Yesica Coronado

Putting it to Work

Attractive, while all of this would seem, the real motivation for green-lighting the solar project — and other similar environmentally-related efforts — is a genuine commitment to the concept of operating in a sustainable manner. More than just a catch phrase for Topcon, the term “sustainable” has long been a part of the company’s mission statement. And, according to Michael Gomes Topcon vice president, Sustainability and Corporate CSR, it's been a part of their DNA even before that.

“Almost everything that bears the Topcon name is designed with sustainability as its core benefit,” he said. “Whether it is minimizing the number of passes an asphalt roller has to make or reducing material overages in construction; or by allowing farmers fewer trips in the field or applying only what’s needed where it’s needed — it all points to sustainability. So powering the campus through solar was an ideal opportunity to materialize that commitment while, at the same time, showing stewardship within the Livermore community. It will benefit the environment, the employees and the shareholders — that’s a win for everyone.”

“Almost everything that bears the Topcon name is designed with sustainability as its core benefit.”

- Michael Gomes

Up on the Rooftop

As might be expected, competition for the $4.2 million Topcon solar system installation was spirited, to say the least. According to Coronado, the vetting process was lengthy but ultimately led to who they feel is the right company for the job, Auburn, Calif.-based CitiGreen, Inc.,

“We put the companies through a rather extensive interview process; we were very specific about our requirements,” she said. “While the financial aspect of the project loomed large, we were also focusing on each company’s level of customer service and scrutinizing their referrals.”

With all that in mind, the list was whittled down to just two companies, with Topcon eventually choosing CitiGreen — a decision which has already proven to be the right one. “During the vetting process, they were a lot more transparent and took the time to provide solid figures rather than just make promises based on assumptions,” said Coronado. “But we've also had a couple scenarios now during the install where things had to be revised and they've been quick to accommodate us. That shows that they share the same level of commitment to this that we do which is a great feeling.”

“We put the companies through a rather extensive interview process; we were very specific about our requirements.”

- Yesica Coronado

Opportunity Knocks

From the contractor’s perspective, the Topcon project offered a unique opportunity to tap into technology literally designed to make their jobs better. For CitiGreen president, Mark Frederick, it was something of a déjà vu moment.

“I worked as a surveyor’s apprentice a long time ago and Topcon instruments were a part of their operation.” He said. “So I couldn’t pass it up when Topcon offered us a chance to use some of their latest layout technology on the system install. After the crew from Capitol Valley Electric, the electrical subcontractor for this project, spent a short time at their training facility getting familiar with their LN-150 3D laser, FC-6000 field computer, and MAGNET Field Layout software, we were ready to put it all to work.”

A lot has changed since Frederick’s initial encounter with what was then probably state-of-the-art survey equipment. The impact was not lost on him. “We used the Topcon solutions to lay out the individual modules on the roof and will do so for all the layout on the ground,” he said. “Compared with the traditional way, which uses a tape measure and string, the process is incredibly fast and accurate. Using a prism pole, we were able to just move around until the FC-6000 found us our point, we’d indicate the mark and move on to the next one — it couldn't be easier. And we are getting accuracies within an eighth of an inch, which is well within our specs. It’s a great opportunity to see how layout is evolving.” 

“We used the Topcon solutions to lay out the individual modules on the roof and will do so for all the layout on the ground.”

- Mark Frederick

But Wait, There’s More

The full scope of Phase One of the Topcon solar project includes panels on the rooftops of buildings 7400 and 7500, which measure 67,701 sq. ft. and 30,725 sq. ft., respectively. The larger structure, Building 7400, will have 1,344 panels while Building 7500 will have 240. According to Coronado, the improvements don’t end there.

“We are also installing a series of solar carports, one of which will be installed at 7400 and another one in 7500 during Phase One and four more at Building 7901 as part of Phase Two,” she said. “The carports, which will also serve as locations for EV charging stations, are designed with scalability in mind. So outlets for future electrical charging stations can easily be added as demand increases. And it is certain to increase, given the benefits of an EV in an area with gas prices as high as they are here.”

Phase Two of the solar project will include all of the 30,500 sq. ft. Building 7901 as well as the John Dice Training Center which adjoins it and shares its electricals. Coronado said Phase Two will commence shortly after the wrap up of Phase One but will still reap the same benefits as the structures covered in Phase One.

“Yet another motivation for acting on the solar project when we did was the change taking place in California with regard to reimbursement for excess power generated through solar,” said Coronado. “New rules established a dramatically lower reimbursement, approximately 20% versus the current 90%. By acting when we did, we were able to secure the much more favorable reimbursement rates and even get them to apply to Phase Two of the project.”

To a passerby, the changes taking place on the rooftops of any of Topcon’s three structures will seem inconsequential. But, according to Michael Gomes, they are representative of the efforts toward sustainability taking place within the company on an almost daily basis. “As one of my colleagues once told me, ‘Nobody likes change, but everybody likes progress,’” he said. “The difference between the two is purpose. And there are few better purposes — both local and global — than hewing a path toward a sustainable future. This is a very big step in that direction.”

Panel installation work began in October 2023. All facets of Phase One are expected to be completed by late June 2024.

“As one of my colleagues once told me, ‘Nobody likes change, but everybody likes progress.”

- Michael Gomes

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