Innovation takes SunModo to new heights

Construction continues on the solar racking company’s new 10,000-square-foot building in NE Vancouver


Innovation is defined as the act of introducing something new or making changes to something established. At the very core of SunModo – a local solar racking company – is a drive to leave a legacy of innovation by applying a steadfast work ethic every day.

CEO Rick Campfield described the guest list for their recent Orchards headquarters groundbreaking as intentional.

“A company at some point in time gets to a stage in its career where they depend on people,” he said. “All the people there (at the groundbreaking) were vendors and partners who helped us get to this point. They were our A-team. We picked the right lawyer, accountant, banker, trucking company. We thought ‘We should introduce you to each other to be each other’s A-team. That was the purpose of our groundbreaking – to honor our partners.”

Founded in Vancouver in 2009, SunModo has grown consistently and now manages a force of 18 along with one contract consultant and two outside contractors.

When Clark Public Utilities began shopping for manufacturers to work on their Orchards service center community solar projects, SunModo’s reputation in the industry made them a natural choice.

Matt Babbitts, energy services project manager at Clark PUD, said “Within the bid document, we specified that we required ground mounting racking for the solar projects. The installing contractor selected the actual brand to use. SunModo met all our specifications.

“Providing racking equipment designed to withstand Pacific Northwest weather elements such as rain, wind and snow may have been a challenge, but they (SunModo) were able to meet it,” he added.

The Clark PUD community solar projects feature an array of 1,160 solar panels that provide enough electricity to power roughly 30 all-electric homes each year.

Stella Sun, marketing director for SunModo, pointed out that proof of their commitment to innovation is in their intellectual property portfolio. SunModo boasts 15 patents around racking and mounting technology; an impressive number for companies twice their size, let alone a smaller, self-funded organization.

“At trade shows I tell potential customers ‘We’re the largest manufacturing rack company you haven’t heard of’ because our name may not be as well recognized, but we have really outstanding products that the market has provided great testimonials of,” Campfield said.

He sees innovation not only in a company’s approach to product creation and design, but how a team is managed including investing in employees, profit sharing and a health-engaging environment. At the end of the day, Campfield explained, customers buy a product first, but return based on the people and the process at the heart of the company.

SunModo’s new two-and-a-half-acre campus (at 14800 NE 65th Street) will be built in phases with the first phase currently underway. Campfield views the entire project as an opportunity to showcase the company’s innovative racking systems at a time when solar power is experiencing more interest and greater growth than ever. To that end, the design of SunModo’s new 10,000-square-foot building will reflect their industry through practical and timely applications.

Using the Living Building Challenge (LBC) as a framework, SunModo will install metal canopies with live, active solar panels on three of their exterior door openings. Mounted with SunModo hardware, they will cumulatively generate 3.72 kilowatts (kW) of solar power or, approximately 4,060 kilowatt hours (kWh) of free electricity per year. Natural light such as the huge window array along the south-facing wall, LED light fixtures throughout, a garden for employees to relax and a patio and barbeque area are just a few of the features that will hit specific LBC petals.

The LBC is an internationally-recognized sustainable building certification program that utilizes, among other things, petals to promote its overall goal of architecture in its most viable form. Campfield was looking for a mechanism to harness the supply side of the renewable industry they represent while striking a financial balance as an organic company with no outside investors. Although SunModo will not meet all of the LBC requirements, they’re trying to achieve as many as make sense for a manufacturing company.

Health and happiness is one of the petals that particularly aligns with SunModo’s mission statement for their new campus; “to provide a warm, healthy and engaging environment that represents who we are and what we do by bringing the outside in with the greatest volume of renewable and sustainable influence as possible.”

Key factors in the first phase of the build are fiscal responsibility and sustainable growth. Phase two will see the addition of office space and warehouse space on the roof; photovoltaic arrays (the complete solar power-generating unit) over each structure; and electric vehicle charging stations. Supports to accommodate the PV arrays and the foundation of the charging stations will be built into phase one so that no retrofitting will be needed.

A working exhibit is envisioned on the rooftop with a goal to reach out to solar manufacturers, inverter companies and other partners to help finance the project. Campfield described it as a collaborative space to display current products, test new ones and evolve into an interactive showroom.

When all building phases are complete, SunModo will generate enough kilowatts to take care of all building loads as well as the street lights, landscape lights and irrigation system of the campus.

The company hopes to move into its new facility before the end of the year.

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