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Solar superstar Collins Electrical takes innovation to next level

By Bob Highfill, Record Staff Writer

STOCKTON — The massive solar array at Collins Electrical Company’s headquarters in Stockton looks like something from a sci-fi movie.

The firm’s president and chief executive officer, Gene Gini, and his family definitely had their eyes on the future when they installed the Mechatron M18KD gearless dual-axis tracker on the south side of their plant east of Highway 99 on Metro Drive.

“When we built this building, Gene said ‘I want this building to be sustainable for the next 90 years,’ ” said Craig Gini, one of Dianne and Gene Gini’s sons, and vice president and renewables general manager for Collins Electrical Company. “Energy fluctuates, so we needed to start putting this in to offset our huge outlay of energy. So now we are controlling that variability.”

Now, the company’s energy needs are met by the Mechatron and several fixed-tilt carport solar arrays. Collins Electrical’s carbon footprint on the environment has been greatly reduced, as have its monthly energy bills from thousands of dollars to next to zero.

“It’s supposed to pay itself off in about three years,” Gini said.

As opposed to a fixed-tilt system — such as a carport array that remains stationary — as the sun moves in the sky, so does the Mechatron, which has a built-in algorithm that crunches decades of data to optimally position itself. The system can move on two-separate axes, east to west and north to south, in order to maximize its angle and its azimuth to the sun via hydraulics, not gears that can wear out and break. The Mechatron and carport arrays also provide shade for employees and reduce the amount of heat reflected on the building, which helps spare the office’s HVAC system.

Collins Electrical’s Mechatron consists of 90 Sun Edison 325 watt modules for a combined sizing of 29.25 kilowatts and utilizes a single 25 kilowatt Canadian Solar 3-phase inverter. The company was exposed to the concept about two years ago when a project to supply a casino with 30 Mechatrons was in the works. Though that deal fell through, the company “put its money where its mouth is,” Gini said.

Since 1928, Collins Electrical has serviced construction projects large and small, focusing on nonresidential properties. The company’s portfolio includes University of the Pacific’s John T. Chambers Building, a 24,000-square-foot on-campus facility with a state-of-the-art CNC lab, Digital Learning Lab, faculty offices, emergency backup system and 16 kilowatt-DC solar photo voltaic system. The project was completed with minimal carbon footprint and earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold Certification.

Collins Electrical also worked on the San Joaquin Delta College Gateway Student Services Building, now called the Lawrence and Alma DeRicco Student Services Building, where all noninstructional student services are consolidated in one location; the Cordova High School Performing Arts Building, a 31,000-square-foot new performing arts theater and classroom facility; the California State University, Chico Taylor Hall structure that includes arts labs, a recital hall, recording studio, lecture halls and faculty offices; the San Joaquin County Rapid Transit District’s bus maintenance, operation building and fueling yard; and multiple solar carport arrays, including St. Mary’s High School. Current projects include the new $65 million Tuolumne County courthouse in Sonora that is scheduled to be completed in March 2021.

Collins Electrical’s longevity is due to its innovation, commitment to quality and hard work. Gini said solar power is increasingly vital to the company with revenues rising from 2 to 3 percent to more than 20 percent.

“It is highly important to our company,” Craig Gini said. “It’s an important part of what we do.”

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