The new Jacobs Hall solar installation at UC Berkeley puts the famous California sunshine to work.

The new Jacobs Hall solar installation at UC Berkeley puts the famous California sunshine to work.

Jacobs Hall is the brand new home for UC Berkeley’s Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation in the College of Engineering. The building was built to embody the values of the institute itself: “a place to explore, a place to connect and a place to learn design innovation by doing design innovation.” Now, it has a Sungevity solar system, too.

Sungevity is no stranger to innovation. It’s been in our DNA from the beginning, when we introduced our proprietary remote solar design technology that enables us to deliver an accurate solar quote without a site visit. So, when Sungevity was chosen to install a solar system on Jacobs Hall that embodied the spirit of Jacobs Institute, we knew our team would be right for the job.

Click here to learn how Sungevity’s partnership with UC Berkeley began.

The cutting edge solar system on Jacobs Hall will do more than just help the Institute control its electricity bills: the 80 kW system is also estimated to reduce the building’s carbon emissions by 597 tons of carbon dioxide over twenty years. What’s more, in part due to the environmental benefit of having PV solar installed, Jacobs Hall is on track to receive one of the highest levels of LEED Certification for green building.

That’s how you generate positive.

Innovative Design for a Brighter Future

It started with finding the right solar panel technology for the job. Jacobs Hall’s custom system uses two different types of solar panels: high quality polycrystalline panels at the center of the installation and unique frameless, bifacial panels on the edges. Bifacial panels can absorb sunlight from above and below, enabling them to generate up to 20% more power than traditional solar panels. 


The bifacial solar panels at Jacobs Hall are frameless and partially transparent to allow sunlight to reach the undersides of the panels.

The next challenge was positioning the panels to capture maximum sunlight. To achieve this, the entire system was mounted on hardware that raises the panels above the rooftop and over the roof’s edge. To accommodate this design, even the orientation of the mounting rails had to be fully customized. Most solar panel installations have twin mounting rails that run horizontally and are affixed to each panel a fourth of the way from its top and bottom. That placement also blocks some sunlight from reaching the underside of the panel – fine when using traditional panels, but suboptimal for bifacial panels. So, to expose the entire underside of the panels to sun, our installers ran the mounting rails vertically along the very edge of each panel. 

Voila: perfect sun exposure.

Click here to learn about Sungevity’s solar options for your home or business. 

Safety First

Local Bay Area installer Quattro Solar took on the task of building the unique system. Every detail had to be perfect, starting with safety measures.  Quattro first secured a rope “lifeline” horizontally across the rooftop, secured by rooftop anchors. Each installer wore a protective harness which they attached to the lifeline while they worked on the roof, allowing them to access even the hardest-to-reach portions of the array while staying safe. The tools were also attached to the lifeline to prevent them from falling onto pedestrians below – a standard safety practice for rooftop installations like this.

“My team had no room for fear of heights. At first it took some getting used to, but by now we are addicted to the adrenaline. I’m afraid that no other solar power installation will ever compare to Jacobs Hall. Clearly we will live the rest of our lives in a torpid state of boredom,” said David Quattro, founder and President of Quattro Solar.

Since the bifacial panels jut out over empty space, Quattro got creative with wooden planks to create extra space for the installers to work. On the four corners of the building, they carefully built the racking and placed the panels with the wooden planks in place. Once each panel was secure and carefully torqued to specification, they would remove the wood from underneath it. Then, they moved on to the next corner and repeated the process.

Next Up for UC Berkeley’s Partnership with Sungevity


Installers put the finishing touches on the system, now the largest solar array on UC Berkeley’s campus, just as the semester began for students. Jacobs Hall contains dedicated space for everything from student exhibits to design studios to maker workshops. Each semester, as many as 800 students will take classes or participate in other activities in the building, and they will be able to see – in real time – how much solar electricity the system is producing on monitors throughout the building. Seeing solar in action is just one of the ways UC Berkeley and Sungevity are working together to build a brighter future.

Where else would you like to see solar on UC Berkeley’s campus? Leave your ideas in the comments below!

Posted by Leslye Penticoff

Leslye is the Content and Community Manager for Sungevity. She's also an avid coffee drinker and rock climber, and serves on the Board of Directors at Margination, a nonprofit in Troy, NY.