The switch has been flipped. OWC’s Austin facility is officially harnessing the power of the sun. The company began installing a solar panel array on the roof of its Austin facility in late 2013 and completed it shortly after. The project not only solidifies OWC’s reputation as a leader in utilizing green technology, but it also explains why the tech firm has fit in so well since it expanded into Austin.
There are so many reasons to love Austin that it’s no wonder so many people and businesses want to call it home. OWC is one of a plethora of thriving companies that took a look at the social and business environment in Austin and said, “Yeah, I want some of that.”
OWC founder and CEO Larry O’Connor explained very simply why he decided Austin would be the best place to expand his Woodstock, IL based tech firm. “People want to be in Austin,” said O’Connor.
From day one, O’Connor had more than just improving the bottom line on his mind. He saw Austin as the perfect place for a company that puts so much emphasis on protecting the environment. The solar panel array in Austin is the latest big step for the company that was named the Green Company of the Year by the Business Intelligence Group in 2013.
In 2008, OWC moved to a state-of-the-art, environmentally sound headquarters in Woodstock. By 2009, OWC’s Woodstock HQ was 100 percent on-site wind powered. In 2010, the Green Building Certification Institute awarded OWC with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum Certification (LEED). LEED is the accepted standard of energy efficiency and sustainability for residential and commercial structures.
The Austin building is headed in the same direction. It has always been in the plans to improve the new Austin building so it can be LEED certified.
“Even though it’s a 30 year-old building, it’s already efficient and has a reflective roof,” O’Connor said when OWC announced it would be expanding into Austin.
And the roof just got a lot more reflective.
The new solar array will harness light from the sun and should provide no less that 32 percent of the buildings annual power consumption. Excess power will be put out onto the grid, which is not always an easy thing to do in Austin.
Because of the way Austin set up its downtown grid, it usually takes a lot of “tricky engineering” and bureaucratic maneuvering to set up an array that sends power back into the system. Austin’s downtown grid is completely separate from the rest of the city.
“The issue this causes is that, for safety, the system is designed so that power can only flow to the customer,” said Clayton Stice, a power engineer with Austin Energy. “So if there is any back-feeding power, the circuit trips and opens up and cuts off power to that facility.”
OWC didn’t have to deal with any of that thanks to its location at the edge of downtown.
“Luckily, an AE (Austin Electric) Engineer pointed out that [OWC's facility is] connected outside of the downtown grid, despite being located within its boundary,” said Derrick Hoffman, co-owner of Hoffman Electric, the company that installed the solar array.
From the beginning OWC has sought to tap into Austin’s unique vibe. The company’s effort to be as green as possible should go a long way toward achieving that in a city by and large considered one of the most green in the U.S.
“Our goal is to be as efficient and environmentally smart as possible, and every step in the right direction counts,” said O’Connor. “This solar array brings us a step closer to getting our Austin building LEED certified.”
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