Ipsun Solar navigates challenging security precautions to complete project in downtown Washington, D.C.

Among the many bucket-list bingo items contractors got to check off last year, such as installing panels while wearing masks, Ipsun Solar (No. 257 on the 2021 Top Solar Contractors list) had the unusual experience of constructing a 561-kW system 140 ft above the ground with armed guards watching.

“For pretty much every five people on site, there was an armed guard. It was interesting being watched by somebody with a gun,” said Herve Billiet, co-founder and CEO of Ipsun.

The extreme security was on hand because Ipsun was working just a few blocks from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with the Capitol Building in view. Constitution Center, a privately owned office building whose tenants include the Federal Housing Finance Agency, General Services Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, was undergoing a renovation and hired Ipsun to install a solar array on its plus-sign-shaped building.

Besides the extra security — every box of solar materials had to be searched on the loading dock before even making it to the roof — the unique building shape led to more project difficulties. With an open, one-acre courtyard in the middle of the building’s footprint, materials had to be walked carefully around the roof’s perimeter for staging. A crane in downtown D.C. hoisting panels up 10 floors wasn’t going to be cost-effective, so pallets came up the freight elevator — that could only be used at night…on weekends.

“We could only move all the hardware to the roof on weekend nights. So we had to get more people to help in the middle of the night,” Billiet said. “There was little excuse to not come on time, because there was no traffic. Plenty of parking space!”

The Ipsun team worked through the nights to bring 1,404 solar panels and 140,000 lbs of ballast blocks up one elevator and ushered around the tricky roof. The roof also couldn’t hold a bunch of weight at one spot — only about 500 lbs within 15-ft squares — so many, many staging areas were needed.

“When each panel weighs 50 lbs and each panel needs 120 lbs of ballast, you can only put about three panels worth of stuff in a 15-ft area,” said David Lasky, Ipsun senior commercial project manager. “Each block had to be unloaded by hand two to three times to get it through the building. It was a lot of weight and human power.”

Lasky said having good partners made the project go smoothly. Project developer Safari Energy and the building’s owner had many ongoing conversations with Ipsun to ensure the project got completed. And it did, on-time and on-budget.

“Sometimes solar starts to be more of a construction project, and in construction, things can go wrong,” Lasky said. “It’s a big, beautiful solar array. We learned that through hard work, anything is possible.”

This story was featured exclusively in our 2021 Top Solar Contractors issue. See the issue and full list of top U.S. solar installers here. 

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