Solar Powered


January 2012, St Paul, MN – It wasn’t much of a street back then, but it was a location that could serve a growing neighborhood. When the St. Paul Corner Drug opened for business in 1922 it had a destination soda fountain where you could enjoy a Phosphate and an ice cream cone while your prescription was filled in the back. Ninety years on they still provided all the essentials – part General Store, part Soda Fountain, and, of course, full-service pharmacy. The Corner Drug is unique in a world dominated by big box pharmacies: On your first visit you may walk in a stranger, but in moments you’ll feel right at home and will leave as a friend. It’s the convivial friendship and commitment to community that makes this place thrive.

“Part of our community commitment is about doing the right thing,” says owner John Hoeschen, “When I heard about Sundial and their solar program I thought – we can do this!” Sundial Solar specializes in commercial and industrial solar development and especially loves challenging installations such as this. Although they service projects world-wide, much of their work is the Midwest where the headquarters is located.

Once introduced to the idea, Hoeschen quickly decided he wanted as much solar as he could possibly get on his roof. There was, however, one serious problem: Half of the available roof space was on a single-story roof sunk between two-story sections of the building. “John had a choice,” says Sundial Solar CEO Jon Kramer, “give up half of the potential size or go the extra mile to span between the two roofs and put a PV array on it.”

Yet the idea of creating a platform that would effectively block much of the light below did not appeal to Hoeshcen, or his tenants, whose living room windows face the lower roof area. But when Sundial proposed using a new Minnesota homegrown technology in an innovative way, the light bulb went on. “We showed John some artist renditions of transparent reflectors that were being developed by 3M for a new generation of the tenKsolar RAIS Wave system. That got his attention!” The proprietary technology features a 3M film that is selective in the light it reflects to the adjacent solar panels. The remaining wavelengths, primarily on the blue end of the spectrum, are transmitted through the clear glass, bathing the area below in aqua tones.

“Only problem was, we were not exactly sure what it would look like because the reflectors had not been made yet!” Kramer said. “So we were kind of going out on a limb. But John was super – encouraging all the way. Once he committed, it was full-on. He even strapped on a tool belt and got right into slinging steel and installing panels! How many pharmacists do you know who would do that?!”

The basic support frame consists of 8” steel I-beams which span 30’ between the two rooftops. It took 4 weeks to prep and erect the steel after which master welder Hal Halvorson made over 500 welds to seam it all together. The tenKsolar integrated mounting system was modified to fit the new steel framework and in another 2 weeks the panels and inverters had been set. The resultant installation is both dramatic and aesthetic. The lower roof is tinted in a soft blue light suggestive of the Caribbean Ocean. As a result Kramer nicknamed the area below the array “Miami Beach.”

All that’s needed now is a little Hawaiian music and some tiki glasses. Say, where’s that hula girl with my Pina Colada...

St. Paul Corner Drug is located at the intersection of Snelling Avenue and St. Clair Avenue in St Paul, Minnesota, diagonally across the intersection from the St Clair Broiler. Go around to the east side of the building for the best view.