MGBW on Using Solar Energy to Build Boats

By Ben Roberts

Marine Group Boat Works, LLC, (“MGBW”) a family-owned boatbuilding and repair company is leading the charge for sustainable construction, off the water. After recently completing a 500 kW rooftop solar panel system for its shipyard in National City, CA, we take a look at the first U.S. boatbuilder to use solar energy to construct boats.

“Our initial decision to go solar was driven primarily by our desire to be a zero-emission, low impact boatbuilder,” said Todd Roberts, president of MGBW. “There’s no question that solar is an economic benefit, but there are many other advantages – everything from self-reliance and sustainability to doing the right thing. We chose to do the right thing.”  

The new solar panel system will greatly decrease MGBW’s footprint and is expected to reduce annual energy consumption by 81 percent based on past and projected consumption. An impressive push forward for the yard, but what are the real-time effects and how can that then be calculated across the industry?

According to the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, MGBW new solar system will save the equivalent of annual greenhouse gas emissions from 1,214,096 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle while offsetting CO2 emissions from 57,002 gallons of gasoline consumed or 540,568 pounds of coal burned. Put simply, making a huge difference thanks to advancing technology.

With a solar move in the pipeline for several years, energy consumption from boat repair has not been sufficient to warrant an investment of this calibre. However, since MGBW opened its new construction division, increases in manufacturing and Solar panel installation helps San Diego boatbuilders Marine Group Boat Works, LLC power the construction of boats.

After a nationwide competitive search, Baker Electric Solar, a San Diego-based full-service solar provider, was selected to design and install the 500 kW rooftop solar panel system for MGBW. The total cost was $1.2 million and took about three months to complete. According to Baker Electric Solar Director of Commercial Solar, “The new solar system will provide more than $3 million in net savings over the 25-year warranted life of the solar modules.” Return on the initial investment is expected to take about five years.

“They worked closely with our structural engineering and steel contractor and added roof reinforcements designed to meet seismic requirements when the concern came up. Baker stayed on schedule, did a great job of communicating and even arranged the solar commissioning after-hours and on a weekend to help us avoid interruptions to our business operations,” said Roberts.

MGBW’s commitment to sustainability and low impact construction makes one of the evolving many pioneers in the industry, as recognized by the Port of San Diego who awarded MGBW with the 2016 Renewable Energy Sustainability Achievement Award at the recent Port Tennant Green Business Network annual event held on December 7, 2016.    

In addition to the solar installation, MGBW reclaims 100 percent of stormwater runoff without discharging any water into the bay. Sandblasting and painting are done in enclosures where all air emissions and dust are recaptured and when possible, recycled.  For the transportation of labour and materials between both of its San Diego facilities, a fleet of electric vehicles and forklifts further reduces the shipyard’s carbon footprint.

The move to eco-technology on land is a big step to complimenting the engineering and advancements happening across future projects set to reach the ocean.

By Ben Roberts
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