Apel Steel Goes off the Grid in Alabama


It’s not often we hear about large solar installations in Alabama. As of 2012, there was only around 1.1 MW installed in the state. And while Alabama has a net metering system in place, it only pays out approximately 4 cents per kWh, while the retail rate for electricity hovers around 11 cents.

Despite a lack of strong policy, though, some companies have found it still makes economic sense to go solar. Apel Steel Corporation, in Cullman, Alabama, is one of those. Due to the large power demand of steel manufacturing, Apel decided to install solar. Apel has also installed a backup battery system that will let it go almost completely off-grid.

The 340 kW PV system was designed and developed by Ace, LLC Solar. It is expected to generate 470,213 kWH of electricity annually, meeting at least 98% of the energy requirements for the heavy machinery and plant operations. This will result in Apel Steel saving more than $3 million on its electric bills over the system’s 30-year life expectancy.

“This was a uniquely challenging installation,” said Chuck Boggs, CEO of Ace Solar. “Not only did we have to engineer and deliver a fully self-contained and optimized power plant, but wire management and overall installation logistics were complex. On top of this, we had to install the system on uneven, undulating terrain.”

The 1,088 Suntech panels were mounted on 45 Solar FlexRack Series G1L racking systems, which are factory pre-assembled and developed to adapt to any terrain. They are also certified to withstand heavy wind, rain, and snow loads.

“Even with the site being 10 degrees off-level and Alabama’s infamous heavy clay and rocky terrain, we were able to achieve a flush, aesthetically-pleasing panel configuration. Our field crew found that the design and functionality of the Solar FlexRack product made the overall solar installation process almost effortless. The compact and flexible nature of the product was a perfect fit,” added Boggs.

To achieve Apel Steel’s goal for going off the grid and becoming energy independent, Ace Solar installed its enerG•Station™. This consists of a utility-scale energy harvesting, monitoring, and distribution system housed completely onsite in an 8′ x 40′ container. This takes Apel Steel off the grid with a battery backup, proprietary energy distribution monitoring, and control software that optimizes energy storage, use, and distribution.

The solar energy system is able to produce all of Apel Steel’s power needs, but it remains connected to the grid as a back-up, just in case any extra power is ever needed. So while the company won’t actually be able to go completely off the grid, it is getting close.