Meet the Team: The Build Team

June 16, 2022

Sullivan County Democrat – “A Sustainable Tomorrow”, A Quarterly Publication of DRS
By Autumn Schanil

Manuel Folgado, CEO of Empire Valorize Solar Empire Valorize Solar’s CEO, Manuel Folgado, is an Agricultural Engineer with training in both solar technology and electrical trade. He is the person behind the build team providing strategic decisions, making sure internal processes are well established, that results are accomplished according to plan, and making sure customers get what they expect – all while working to inspire his team and create a comfortable work environment. “I really enjoy entrepreneurial activities,” Folgado stated. “I was co-founder of a start-up for development and EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) services for solar projects in 2004 in Valencia, Spain during my transition from my studies to the labor market.

“In 2006 that company merged with an engineering firm. In 2016 I left to start this new endeavor with Empire Valorize Solar with the aim to provide development and EPC services to the New York solar market,” he said. Back when the community solar market in NY was just getting on its feet, Folgado met Rich Winter of Delaware River Solar when they were both involved in other projects in the industry.
It was then that they decided to collaborate on putting together a plan for development, construction, and operation of solar projects in the community solar space in NY.

Since then, according to Folgado, they have participated in the NY State Community Solar Program with more than 100 projects. “Some of the challenges we’re facing now are related to high volatility in raw materials, shortage of equipment, and the uncertainty on legislation around panel imports,” expressed Folgado, “which is inflating the cost of the panels.” But the rewards often outweigh the challenges, according to Folgado. Such as landowners benefiting from hosting solar projects with predictable long term lease agreements, the promotion of local jobs and having local companies participate with community projects. “And in some instances, local farmers are providing services to our projects with their local expertise like seeding or mowing,” he continued.

Folgado doesn’t feel that there is one single solution either, but rather a combination of technologies along with solar that can, and should, support the base load of the grid. “Like a sail boat,” Folgado stated, “when the wind isn’t blowing you turn on the engine. Solar and wind should be prioritized in the generation mix, and combined with other technologies when they cannot support the base load of the
grid. “I think the future is for solar to participate in grid support combined with other technologies like green hydrogen or batteries,” he said. “A combination that will be gaining space in the generation and grid support mix in the coming years.”

Folgado also believes it’s important for legislation to establish the rules of the market and reduce uncertainty. “We need legislation that allows distributed generation, like the Community Solar initiatives, that promote homeowners to have access to green and cheaper electricity without compromising space or investment upfront and allow increased access to solar, which in turn can promote more jobs,” he continued. “NY State is becoming a leading state for Community Solar projects, let’s keep that going.”

Justin Gaby, Project Manager
Justin Gaby attended both Alfred State College and Rochester Institute of Technology. Shortly after graduating he began his career in solar for a startup out of Maryland as lead electrician for New York State, eventually working his way up to Field/Electrical Manager.
The company was then acquired by an overseas corporation and their office was closed, which allowed Gaby to go back to his former college and teach for a period of time. It was there that Gaby had the privilege of teaching and promoting renewable energy (solar), before the opportunity arose to work for Empire Valorize Solar.

“I was excited to get back into solar in a practical application,” expressed Gaby. “I’m the Project Manager at EVS, supervising a set number of construction managers who oversee their projects. And being a point of contact for towns or the developer, I allow the construction manager to be able to focus their time on their specific projects.” Gaby also assists the construction managers with experience they may not have, as well as physical labor within his expertise.

“Each day starts with safety, where the construction manager meets the subcontractors as the day begins,” Gaby explained, “and ends with quality assurance after the construction manager spot checks the days progression.” According to Gaby, the average site can be anywhere between 3MW(million watts) to 10MW with one to five different subcontractors at any given time with as many as 60 people depending on the stage and size of the project.

“I think solar will continue to evolve as time goes by both in efficiency and application,” said Gaby. “As battery capabilities progress, solar will be able to be utilized in off times rather than just daytime. And it’s less invasive, meaning depending on the location it can be relatively hidden. “It’s rewarding to see your hard work completed and to see a project from conception through hand off to the owners, knowing this will generate energy for many years in a clean, efficient manner.”

SunMyung In, Project Coordinator
With a background in Civil Engineering and as a construction inspector, SunMyung In’s first role at EVS was in the office for software assistance, before eventually becoming Project Coordinator. “I honestly never expected that I would work in a solar company,” stated SunMyung, “but I feel really lucky to be a member of this company. As Project Coordinator, the main scope of my position is supporting the whole construction team to meet the construction schedules on time.” Still in the learning process, SunMyung tracks the overall
progress of each construction site at the end of every week. If there has been a delay due to weather conditions or essential construction materials are not on time, SunMyung modifies and updates the preliminary schedules and spreadsheets the company uses to track the status for each task of each project in progress.

“Besides the weekly reports,” SunMyung added, “I am sometimes on construction sites if the construction managers need hands for testing or clients require official documents. After site visits, we summarize our performances and share those with other members in the construction team and also from different departments in our company. We repeat those steps numerously to achieve the foremost outcomes
at the end and to bring the best results to our clients.” According to SunMyung, currently nuclear power and fossil fuels are considered a main power source to produce electricity, but they come with huge environmental risks, which is why the future of solar is important in helping produce energy that is environmentally friendly.

“Currently, solar is not efficient enough to completely replace nuclear power plants or fossil fuel power stations, but since the efficiency of solar farms is advancing yearly,” he added, “I think those can gradually take out the important positions of other power plants and will be one of the most important electricity generations of the future.”