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Sprague Energy Looks To Grow Past Fossil Fuels With Flexible Solar Panels On Oil Tanks

Thin-film solar panels cover the top of an oil storage tank.

New Hampshire-based oil and gas distributor Sprague is getting into the renewable energy business – and they hope new solar panels on their storage tanks are only a first step.

The panels, installed by Massachusetts-based Picktricity, are not the common angled glass variety. These flexible “thin-film” panels can be glued almost anywhere.

Sprague sustainability director Jay Leduc says they've had the panels on top of an inactive oil storage tank in Portland since last spring.

"I've brought many tours up there, as well as the operators with their heavier boots, and we walk across it all the time with absolutely no impact,” he says.

Those panels cut about $20,000 off the company's energy costs, he says, and offset some carbon emissions. And they’re essentially mortgaging the panels with their bank, meaning no up-front capital cost.

Next, Leduc says Sprague plans to solarize three larger tanks at a terminal in New York. And they're marketing the flexible solar panels to other companies with appropriate storage tanks.

Credit Sprague

Theoretically, he says Sprague could solarize enough of their tanks to become a net generator of renewable power. That could someday sustain their business as more sectors transition off the fossil fuels that drive climate change.

As more policy-makers and industries look at making that change, Leduc says they want to help more companies like theirs do the same.

"[It] doesn't mean oil or natural gas is going away any time soon,” Leduc says. “But certainly, we want to look at all forms of energy, and how we can store it, create it and sell it."

This also isn't Sprague's first energy transition. When the company was founded in the late 1800s, Leduc says, its fuels of choice were whale oil and coal.

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