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Power up: St. Pete Pier set to wow visitors with unique canopies

The eye-catching, covered approach to the Sunshine City's new showpiece features a complex solar energy array.

  • By Brian Hartz
  • | 6:00 a.m. September 6, 2019
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Mark Wemple. Bill Johnson, president and founder of Brilliant Harvest, at the St. Pete Pier's solar-powered canopy walkway.
Mark Wemple. Bill Johnson, president and founder of Brilliant Harvest, at the St. Pete Pier's solar-powered canopy walkway.
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When the new St. Pete Pier opens next year, one of the first things visitors will experience is a long pathway lined with vendor stalls and covered by a pair of eye-catching steel canopies that are each topped with 221 solar panels. Those panels are provided and installed by Sarasota-based Brilliant Harvest.

The firm’s president and founder, Bill Johnson, says the project is one of the most complex he’s worked on since he founded Brilliant Harvest in 2009. Preliminary budgeting began nearly two years ago, for starters. And although the SolarTech Universal solar panels themselves are standard, not custom, the steel canopy design required a special rail-mounting system that would ensure a clean, streamlined look.

“Normally, in a rooftop array, you don't worry about wiring,” Johnson says. “You don’t worry about aesthetics. But in this case, they wanted everything hidden.”

Easier said than done.

“The thing about solar that can make it tricky is that when you change something structurally or physically within the design, you also have, because of that, an electrical change,” Johnson says. “And so you have to understand how those things impact each other and what limitations there are ahead of time, because there are only certain combinations of panels and inverters and all the other electronics that make the system code compliant and able to produce power the way it’s supposed to.”

Another hang-up was, simply, the many components of the project itself. Brilliant Harvest is a subcontractor on the project to Borrell Electric, which in turn is a subcontractor to Skanska USA, the company that’s overseeing construction of the pier.

Thus, Johnson says, the biggest challenge was “understanding the ramifications of a change in one part of the project and how that cascades through the rest of the project. Skanska is dealing with that on a level that’s 10 times the magnitude of this. It’s one little example of the overall process that they live with every single day.”

Brilliant Harvest’s solar panels will ultimately provide renewable energy that will power vendor devices and lighting along the covered pathway. Johnson says other parts of the pier project, like Doc Ford’s restaurant, could have solar power components, so additional work might come his way.

“There are some questions about budgets and things like that,” he says. “But it’s something we could possibly be involved in.”

(The sidebar to this story has been updated to note that W Architecture and Wannemacher Jensen Architects were also involved in the design and architecture of the project.) 


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