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“Residential and Commercial PV systems have, until recently, been limited to a maximum of 600 volts,” Sol Energy president Ken Olson says. “[The Boulder project] is a good example of the way the industry is going in terms of higher voltage systems.”
In recent years, Olson adds, double digit growth of photovoltaic (PV) systems in the utility sector has spurred development of equipment with listed ratings of 1000 Volts. Many in the PV industry believe that these higher voltages are soon to become the new standard in commercial as well as residential PV systems. The Boulder project demonstrates how the PV industry is moving toward lower costs and higher efficiencies.
Photovoltaic inverter producer SMA Solar Technology Global Product Manager Ken Christensen explains: “Listed 1,000 V PV components provide the same assurance of safety as traditional 600 Volt- rated components, but owners of 1,000 Volt PV systems benefit from significantly reduced costs and increased energy production.”
The Boulder County Longhorn facility’s PV capacity is 48.45 kilo-Watts and is expected to generate over 75,000 kilo-Watt-hours (kWh) annually. 75,000 kWh helps Boulder County to achieve their green goal with Longhorn: a Net Zero energy building. That means that the all of the building’s energy—heating and cooling—is provided on-site.
“[Boulder County] did all of its [building designs] as efficiently as possible,” says Boulder County Project Coordinator Ron Diederichsen. And with the addition of Longhorn’s PV system to their other clean energy buildings, Boulder County’s facilities “total one megawatt.”
Megawatt equals one million watts. That’s a lot of clean, green power.
Municipalities are going green. Solar energy systems for municipalities are a cost effective, energy efficient alternative to traditional utility services. The path from a heavy carbon footprint to a more sustainable energy strategy is a partnership, the first step of which is a municipality’s solar energy awareness.
“Progressive municipalities are looking forward to cleaner, greener power,” Sol Energy president Ken Olson says. “They subscribe to the concept of the new energy economy.”
Just knowing solar energy is cleaner is not enough for city officials to move forward. They have a responsibility to their tax payers and the city budget bottom line. The good news for solar energy partnerships is that the municipality’s cost is zero, with significant savings over time.
“With third-party financing it will cost [municipalities] no money up front,” says Olson, “and will save [their taxpayers] from day one.”
Private third-party financiers take advantage of tax credits. Municipalities cannot. Through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), the financiers own and manage the systems. Municipalities buy the clean energy at a cost that is less than what they would otherwise pay to a utility company. The end result is no cash up front for the municipality and substantial energy savings over the years of the lease.
A model program is the City of Rifle, Colorado. City officials committed to a sustainable “Energy Village” strategy, including Sol Energy’s design and installation of eight photovoltaic (PV) systems. The City estimates savings of $400K over the next twenty years.
What do Olympic medalists and the Carbondale Recreation and Community Center have in common? Their standard of performance is the best in their field—athletes for their physical accomplishments and the Rec center for its green environmental design. While the pinnacle of Olympic competitors can win the gold medal, facilities with high performing sustainability and operational solutions like the Carbondale Rec Center can achieve an internationally recognized LEED platinum certification.
LEED Awards for Green Energy
Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) is a “third party validation of green buildings.” LEED measures the sustainable practices from a building’s design through to daily operations “recognizing best-in-class building strategies” on a hierarchical performance system of accreditation: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. This rating system is comprised of a group of requirements that adapt to meet the diverse needs of various projects, ranging from schools to health care facilities to entire residential neighborhoods.
When a building applies for and earns a LEED certification, they also are connected to a global network of assurances, visibility, and lifecycle management that contribute to a return on their investment. The LEED council notes:
LEED-certified buildings cost less to operate, reducing energy and water bills by as much as 40%. Businesses and organizations across the globe use LEED to increase the efficiency of their buildings, freeing up valuable resources that can be used to create new jobs, attract and retain top talent, expand operations and invest in emerging technologies.
LEED-certified buildings give back. LEED certification increases property values and LEED buildings have faster lease-up rates and may qualify for a host of incentives like tax rebates and zoning allowances.
LEED certification levels do not only benefit municipalities and investors—communities win too. A White House Office of Management and Budget report in June 2012 found that energy efficiency investments in the “four preceding years” are expected to save $18 billion during the lifespan of the projects.
In Carbondale, Colorado, we have a hometown LEED champ: The Carbondale Recreation and Community Center has merited a platinum certification.
Carbondale Recreation and Community Center
The town’s medal vision was not one of competition, however. It was one of sustainability. Baker Design Group architect John Baker incorporated “energy conservation strategies” into the building plan, including lighting sensors, skylights, high efficiency irrigation and conservation, a construction waste management plan, along with the use of post-consumer and locally sourced materials. The Town of Carbondale planners liked what they saw and decided to go for a LEED certification.
“The REC center was going for silver, tried to make gold, and got it to platinum” says Sol Energy president Ken Olson, who installed the building’s rooftop 52 kW photovoltaic (PV) system.
Baker attributes the REC center’s platinum certification to Sol Energy’s “crown jewel” PV system. Their Expanded Case Study¹ states that solar energy provides two-thirds of the 14,400 sq. ft. multi-use facility’s needs. They anticipate a 49% reduction in electricity consumption and future energy cost savings of 54% as a result of all of the strategies combined.
Recreation Center Manager Eric Brendlinger credits the building’s design to the “light and airy” feeling indoors (75% of building is lit naturally due skylights) and to the overall energy efficiency.
“Our biggest asset is our 288 solar panels on our roof,” says Brendlinger.
Brendlinger adds that city staff and community members can track the facility’s energy production and usage at a kiosk in the lobby—a public education piece that is key to platinum certification. The kiosk has a touch screen connection to Garfield County’s Energy Navigator. The navigation website provides an ongoing analysis of renewable energy in buildings throughout the county.
“The REC center is a good example of a new breed of buildings which aspire to higher [clean energy] performance,” says Olson.
However, for Sol Energy and organizations like LEED who help communities develop, design, and understand green energy systems, money is not the “just reward.”
CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCACY:
Sol Energy’s vision of “A secure world, a healthy environment, and a prosperous economy with abundant, clean, renewable energies” aligns with the advocacy efforts of LEED. Neither believe that the winner is a single person or building, nor is the reward on a piece of metal dangling from a ribbon—it is a sustainable future that gets the prize.
JUST FOR FUN—MEDAL HISTORY:
A metal standard hierarchy goes back to Plato who classified “souls” into regimes (click here to learn more), including gold, silver, iron, and bronze. The first Olympians were given greenery—a palm branch—along with a decoration of red ribbons for their hair (it wasn’t until the 1896 Olympics that athletes were awarded with medals). Neither was solar energy rewarded during Ancient Greece. It was the norm, not the exception. In fact, they were the first to utilized passive solar in their architecture back in 400BC.
1 Baker Design Group, Expanded Case Study.