The sun has made a comeback in Central Oregon after a long, gloomy winter. The sunshine has returned just in time for the opening of Bend Broadband's new data center, dubbed "The Vault," which has become a showcase for the latest solar panel technology. Bend's own Sunlight Solar took on the project, which stands as the homegrown company's biggest installation to date.
When it came to Bend Broadband's new data center, the company wanted to make the facility as green as possible. Bend Broadband execs said incorporating such a large solar installation was important because typically, the energy-intensive data center industry hasn't gone out of its way to be clean and green.
"We have a large south-facing roof and wanted to take full advantage of it," said Leonard Weitman, BendBroadband's project manager on the Vault.
The Vault went into the former home of Bend Tarp and Liner in the Empire business park. As it happens, the building was already outfitted with eight solar panels that Sunlight's founder and president, Paul Israel, installed years ago. Sunlight removed those panels and donated them to a local charity.
"Over time, incentives have decreased and install costs have also decreased, almost in line with each other," says Israel.
However, improved installation efficiencies make a project of this size possible for Sunlight's customers. The goal of the industry is to reach grid parity - the point at which consumers can look at solar power as an option - even without incentives.
Sunlight Solar has now completed some of the largest solar installations in Oregon, in which the company takes great pride. According to Israel, Sunlight's business has more than quadrupled in the past half decade and is now at roughly $10 million in annual sales. As the solar industry grows, Sunlight Solar is seeing more competition from larger, California-based companies. So far, Sunlight has been able to position itself as one of the go-to installers for small- and large-scale projects around Central Oregon. In addition to the Bend Broadband installation, Sunlight secured the solar contract for the new Facebook data center in Prineville - - a coup for a small, locally owned company like Sunlight.
"Central Oregon is attractive for data centers because of cheap utility rates and access to the sun," says Israel.
The Bend Broadband Vault opened on Friday, April 1, and the solar power plant has been generating for over a month.