RMI Turns to SoL Energy to Meet Net-Zero Goal

SoL Energy, Who the Experts Turn to For Solar.

The Rocky Mountain Institute Innovation Center in Basalt, CO

When it comes to new approaches to energy, Amory Lovins and his organization, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), are among the best known and respected in the industry. Ken Olson and his firm SoL Energy, a solar company located in Carbondale, CO, were honored to be the solar company of choice for both Mr. Lovins’s home and the new Rocky Mountain Institute Innovation Center. Among the many honors achieved by Mr. Lovins are some twelve honorary doctorate degrees from several of the most prestigious universities in the world; the MacArthur “Genius” award; and being named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine. (To learn more about Amory Lovins see his bio on the RMI website).


RMI’s Innovation Center, located in Basalt, CO, was considered the best performing office building for its size in the country in 2016. The building is a prototype of a net-zero carbon commercial building, and its design and construction applied many of the resources from RMI’s “Pathways to Zero”, a program “driving early movers in the buildings industry on a path to—or beyond—net-zero carbon”.

RMI Innovation Center Interior
RMI Innovation Center Interior

The trick to achieving “net-zero carbon” is to first design a building to be as easy to heat and light as possible and minimize the user loads, and then generate or procure energy from carbon neutral sources. The “net-Zero” goal was attained with the collaboration and teamwork of leading experts in the fields of architecture, materials design, lighting, mechanical systems and structural engineering.

Installing the 83 kw PV solar system at RMI's Innovation Center
Installing the 83 kW PV solar system at RMI’s Innovation Center.

SoL Energy was pleased to contribute to such a groundbreaking effort. Supporting RMI’s goal to be beyond net-zero SoL Energy designed and installed an 83kW PV system to produce more than 100% of the building’s energy use. Some of the additional electricity generated is used to charge the employees’ electric vehicles.



One of the many innovative strategies used, and a key component for maintaining the solar system’s maximum output are SolarEdge brand inverters and optimizers. Real time performance monitoring displays provide panel-by-panel information that allows RMI staff to quickly identify and address operation or maintenance issues. This innovative system has become common in commercial PV systems today.

Amory Lovins And SoL Energy staff monitoring PV system performance.
Amory Lovins And SoL Energy staff monitoring PV system performance.
Behind-the-Meter Solar Battery Storage
RMI's demand side battery bank helps RMI avoid paying peak demand charges.
RMI’s demand side battery bank helps RMI avoid paying peak demand charges.

Another important feature of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center’s PV project is the use of batteries to store the solar generated power “behind-the -meter”. “Behind-the-meter” means the batteries are on the customer’s side of the meter, not the utility company’s side. The local utility company is Holy Cross Electric (HCE), a non-profit cooperative. HCE has “demand” rate schedules that raise the price of electricity for high peak demands. RMI’s solar battery storage is key to limiting peak demands in order to avoid demand charges.

The company Tesla, that makes electric cars, is now making batteries for storing solar generated power for homeowners. Homeowners with PV systems might use the batteries for power outage back-ups. Batteries can save money in areas where utility companies do not credit full price during net-metering, have demand rate pricing, or have time-of-use pricing. If the customer is “off-the-grid”, batteries are a necessity. (Stay tuned to SoL Energy’s blog for an upcoming piece on leveraging battery storage).


One of the big keys to financing PV systems today are tax credits, rebates, and financing programs. RMI worked with a specialist with expertise and programs to finance solar projects for non-profit institutions like RMI.

The system was financed through Collective Sun, a Third Party finance organization that provides Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) for non-profit organizations. Under a PPA, investors provide the funding for the PV system and can therefore take advantage of the 30% Federal Tax Credit. The customer, in this case RMI, pays the investors instead of the utility company for their kilowatt-hours.

In addition, what is attractive to any business or owner is knowing exactly what their electric expense is going to be 20 years into the future. RMI will not be subject to increasing costs and volatility of electricity prices.


All of this innovative knowledge is brought to bear on every commercial and residential solar system SoL Energy delivers. SoL Energy is a full service solar engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor. They have the knowledge and experience to provide commercial and municipal customers with turnkey PV solutions they can rely on. Their services include:

  • Utility Bill Analysis
  • Selection and Procurement of Solar Equipment
  • PV System Installation
  • Performance Monitoring
  • Commissioning
  • Maintenance and Repair
  • Technical Support
  • Staff Training

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Comment ( 1 )

  • Phi Filerman

    Great Interview Ken. You are the Sage of Solar!

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