So Watt’s New at SOA? …..Our recent Solar Lunch & Learn and new SolaTubes!

What is a SolaTube? It is also known as a TDD or Tubular Daylighting Device. A TDD captures the sun’s rays and uses them to illuminate the interiors of buildings.

In its most basic form, this unique device is made up of a dome, tubing, and a diffuser. It is an efficient way to bring natural light into the hard-to-reach interior portions of a building. SOA has just recently installed 3 SolaTubes in our office and we are quite excited about them!

The brand new SolaTubes were just one of the topics at our recent Solar Lunch & Learn. Jen Hedrick, SOA Principal, started the presentation by explaining the ways an architect can help maximize a projects solar or daylight potential through site analysis, building orientation and 3D modeling of shading at different times of the year.

Doug Carr with MO Solar Apps went over the different types of solar panels that are available and how they work. He showed various photovoltiac (PV) installations in and around the Columbia MO area, and also explained something unique about Columbia Water and Light: annual “true up”. Annual, instead of monthly, “true up” means that in a net-metering scenario, a solar producer is paid for the “avoided cost” any excess energy (which is much less than “retail” cost) put back into the grid at the end of the year, rather than the end of the month. In effect, this incenivizes smaller (read: less costly) arrays that are more appropriately matched to a building’s annual energy consumption, without overproducing. While solar overproduction is good for the environment, an overproduced kWh does not pay an investor back at the same rate as an offset kWh. Columbia has the only utility company in the state with this system, and it is one more factor that might make PVs a good investment.

Shelter Insurance is one Columbia company benefitting from annual true up. Their 89.1 kW array on their West Ash St. Grounds Building has garnered them savings and a fair bit of good press (including a Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement Award!). Brian Fick, Manager of Business Operations at Shelter, explained the many decisions they faced to get the greatest benefit from their investment in solar. From identifiying the best site, assessing the energy demands of their different buildings, researching tax incentives to evaluating PV panel manufacturers, the process was involved. But their careful consideration and investment will pay off – in ten years or less, they estimate!

To wrap up the presentation, everyone was invited to view the newly installed SolaTubes in SOA’s office. Patrick McWard, one of the owners of Mays Maune McWard, who supplied SOA’s SolaTubes, gave a brief overview of typical daylighting stratagies and their benefits. Natural daylight can create a more enjoyable environment for employees and students.

When people are connected to natural light, both productivity and mental health improve. SOA is utilizing the SolaTubes at a breakout conference space and in the resource library. Having a source of natural daylight in our library is great for seeing how a building material might look differently in natural vs. artificial light.


If you are curious about SolaTubes, or wondering if solar panels might be right for your new or existing building, we’d love to have you stop by. We even have a few more “sunglasses” to share to get ready for the upcoming eclipse.


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