Contra Costa County Goes Solar with Two SunPower® Systems

Contra Costa County enjoys abundant year-round sunshine; and solar electric generation is a practical, long term solution to help us reduce our energy costs and achieve energy independence. Solar is a very smart addition to our County’s overall energy portfolio.”

– Donna Gerber, Supervisor, Contra Costa County


The County of Contra Costa was incorporated in 1850 as one of the original 27 counties of the State of California, with the City of Martinez as the County seat. Long at the forefront of local governments promoting renewable energy and conservation, the County’s building administrators opted to increase renewable energy measures in adherence to a new sustainable building policy adopted by County supervisors in 2001 to reduce energy use and bills.


Contra Costa needed a cost-effective solution to reduce the operating costs associated with running the County’s municipal properties. County administrators were also looking for ways to help California reach its goal of deploying renewables to meet 17% of theState’s energy needs by the year 2006.


Due to recent advances in solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, Contra Costa County determined that investing in solar generation would lower operating costs while using sustainable energy sources. The County installed several solar arrays on County buildings, including the Martinez Administration Building and the Martinez Detention Facility. These solar systems generate on-site electricity, which offsets peak demandutility rates.

Covering 32,750 square feet of combined roof area, Contra Costa County’s solar system is the largest photovoltaic system in the County. The system makes use of an unused asset, the roof, to generate clean, reliable electricity. Totalling 312 kilowatts, the systems produce enough electricity during the day to power more than 315 homes.

Contra Costa County’s solar electric systems are being funded in part with incentives provided by the California Energy Commission’s Emerging Renewables Program.

Photovoltaic System Description

The solar electric systems installed on Contra Costa’s facilities are a lightweight building integrated photovoltaic roofing system that is installed over an existing water proof membrane. These systems consist of 2,398 SunPower modules, each with a maximumrating of 190 watts.

SunPower® PowerGuard® solar roof tiles fit together with interlocking tongue-and-groove side surfaces that enable them to resist wind uplifts without penetrations. In addition to generating electricity, SunPower’s solar roof system provides thermal insulation and protects the roof membrane from harsh UV rays and thermal degradation. These benefits result in decreased heating and cooling energy costs and extended roof life.

Project Overview

Location:    Martinez, CA
Completed:    October 2002
System Peak Capacity:    189 kW PV
Surface Area:    20,000 square feet
Solar Electric Tiles:    1452
Products and Services:    SunPower® PowerGuard®

Location:    Martinez Administration Building     
Completed:    January 2003
System Peak Capacity:    123 kW
PV Surface Area:    12,750 square feet
Solar Electric Tiles:    946
Products:    SunPower® PowerGuard®


Installing solar photovoltaics on existing buildings and in new construction is a sound,sensible way of using distributed energy resources to meet renewable energy goals and minimize our impact on the environment.

By avoiding the purchase of fossil-fuel generated electricity, Contra Costa’s solar installation spares the environment from thousands of tons of harmful emissions such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, major contributors to smog, acid rain and global warming. It is estimated that over the 25-year lifetime of the photovoltaic systems, the solar generated electricity will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 2,300 tons. These emissions reductions are equivalent to planting 640 acres of trees, removing over 450 cars from California roadways, or not driving 5.7 million miles