On-Site Power, Renewables, Solar

From the fairway to the wellhead: How golf icon is taking solar to drillers

Standing and peering into nature on countless days at countless golf courses, whether as a designer or playing, Randy Heckenkemper gained a deep appreciation for Mother Nature through the years.

The longtime course designer has shifted that personal bond into the professional by helping a start a relatively new company called Site Solar Inc. The enterprise, which operates out of dual headquarters in Arizona and Heckenkemper’s native Tulsa, produces rentable solar and battery-powered generators which also operate as self-contained lighting systems for oil and gas sites, construction and public events.

“We’ve found a tremendous niche,” Heckenkemper told Power Engineering in a recent visit to the company’s yard in Tulsa. “When people say solar is not reliable,” he will note the proven 104-hour duration of one light and clean energy footprint offered by the solar-storage combination. “How many hours of light do you want?”

Site Solar shares its HQ with Tulsa-based Industrial Structures Inc., which also makes the masts and light towers for the units. ISI, which also makes heat recovery steam generator enclosures and boarding cars for the railway industry, is an exhibitor at POWERGEN International.

In only a few years, Site Solar has gone from some 400 to close to 1,000 units. The systems have provided clean lighting for high-profile events such as the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals to illuminate the way for fans finding their cars, but the real juice of what the company does is its growing presence in the Permian Basin oil and gas fields of west Texas.

These ensembles boast a host of solar panels that can convert close to 1,500 watts at peak sun and tilted for most efficient angle while also storing excess energy into the six lead-based batteries. A Cummins propane backup generator sits at the ready in case the clouds persist for an extended time.

Newly struck, free flowing wells may only need the basic electricity offered by Site Solar generators until pressure backs down and artificial lift is required. Heckenkemper says this setup can eliminate 14 hours of daily diesel generator use per wellhead and reduce greenhouse gases by close to 67 metric tons overall.

“It’s not our intent to replace all diesel generators,” Heckenkemper pointed out. “A place where you can’t get 100 percent sun needs diesel, and also if the wellhead pressure forces a shift to artificial lift.”

But, he added, “every new wellhead could have us initially. We’re the least expensive alternative on the market. They’re not paying for the fuel.”

Heckenkemper said he developed his sunny disposition over decades of work as a golf course designer. He helped plan and build the Troon Country Club course in Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as golf destinations in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Las Vegas.

He has several younger colleagues running most of the course designing business now, but several years ago Heckenkemper’s long line of friendships led him to Site Solar, where he is a lead partner.

And that is where his passion currently lies.

“With golf you’re focused on one project at a time and then you have to find another; it’s kind of a rollercoaster,” he said. “This builds momentum. Each year is bigger than the previous year.”

Site Solar plans to have a fleet of some 2,000 systems available for rent in the coming years. In addition to public events and wellhead sites, the lighting-generator combo have proved attractive for frac sand mines and as security lighting.

Energy is often seen as a death match between fossil fuels and the rising renewable energy resources. Heckenkemper said he is committed to cleaning the environment but doesn’t see it in such stark black and white or, in his opinion, unrealistic terms.

“Many Site Solar customers have stated corporate goals of reducing greenhouse gases,” he replied when asked about his customers’ thoughts on climate change. “Fossil fuels will be a significant part of the world’s energy sources, but I think it is good for all of us to provide options that are sustainable for future generations.”

Neither Site Solar nor even other solar-powered alternative will ever fully replace diesel on-site power, Heckenkemper said. Modern programmable logic controllers can automate machinery or pumps so that several energy sources can be combined without losing power.

It can all work together, in his opinion.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and [email protected]).

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Solar, On-Site Power and Natural Gas Infrastructure are all going to be part of the content offered at POWERGEN International this November in New Orleans. More information coming.