Virginia's largest solar-energy system is now up and running at Washington and Lee University, and visitors to the University's website can watch it working in real time.
"We've been generating electricity from the two solar photovoltaic arrays since late last month, when we flipped the switch," said Scott Beebe, director of facilities and energy management at Washington and Lee. "The systems seem to be functioning as we expected. We anticipate that this will lower our consumption of the electricity we purchase from Dominion Virginia Power by 3 percent in a year."
The arrays are in two locations on campus. The larger of the two, an installation of 1,016 SunPower solar PV panels, is on the roof of Lewis Hall, the building that houses the University's School of Law. It has a capacity of 325 kilowatts. The other installation features 540 Sanyo solar PV panels rated at 119 kilowatts. It is installed on a custom-designed steel canopy over the University's parking deck.
"The parking deck installation, while smaller, has the advantage of being a very visible reminder of the University's commitment to sustainability," said Beebe. "When students, faculty and staff pull in to park every day, they can see that we're at the forefront of this important initiative."
Data from the system is now available through a web-based dashboard, go.wlu.edu/solar, which features graphic display of the generation for both installations, includes both the ambient and cell temperatures, and provides data on the environmental benefits.
"The dashboard is another important component of the project," said Beebe. "Having this as part of our overall energy dashboard will allow anyone from on or off campus to see how much energy is being produced and consumed. It will not only help technicians and be a boon for anyone doing research on these projects, but it's also another important way of showing our commitment to sustainability."
The University is leasing the system from Secure Futures L.L.C., a solar-energy development company based in Staunton, Va., which owns and operates the panels through its subsidiary, Lexington Solar.
"The solar arrays represent an important element in our plan to achieve at least a 20 percent reduction in our greenhouse-gas generation over the next five years," said Steve McAllister, vice president for finance and treasurer at W&L. "Not only does this project make environmental sense, but the federal and state incentives that Secure Futures was able to obtain also made it an economically viable project for the University."
Anthony Smith, chief operating officer of Secure Futures, noted that W&L's solar-energy system "reflects a highly collaborative approach with the University, the city of Lexington, solar integrators, local engineers, a local steel manufacturer and local contractors. The project also underscores the need for developing a more resilient state energy policy to reduce the regulatory barriers for customers and small businesses to increase opportunities for renewable energy and jobs in Virginia.
W&L entered into a 20-year lease agreement with Lexington Solar, spreading the cost of the project over a longer period and reducing initial upfront cost.
Southern Energy Management (SEM), an energy-efficiency and solar-power company based in North Carolina, installed and maintains the Lewis Hall PV system for Lexington Solar.
Blair Kendall, director of business development for SEM, calls the system "a perfect example of how solar power can be leveraged successfully. Washington and Lee and Secure Futures are proving that clean energy projects can be developed in Virginia. This project should serve as a blueprint for other schools interested in promoting sustainability."
Standard Solar Inc. of Maryland installed and will maintain the parking deck installation.
"Washington and Lee's parking deck installation is a prime example of how colleges and universities are taking critical steps toward energy independence," said Scott Wiater, president of Standard Solar. "We are honored to have been part of this project and to help Washington and Lee achieve its goals toward environmental responsibility."
The project was supported by local and state incentives. By unanimous vote of its city council and mayor, the city of Lexington passed an ordinance with a 20-year tax exemption for solar-energy equipment. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy awarded an incentive grant for the project using funds provided by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
About Secure Futures
Secure Futures (securefutures.us) designs, develops and co-finances distributed solar solutions with and for tax-exempt entities to reduce their electricity costs and to protect against future grid price increases through 15- to 25-year solar-power purchase agreements (SPPAs).
About Southern Energy Management
Southern Energy Management (southern-energy.com) is a North Carolina-based sustainable energy company offering energy efficiency, green building and turnkey solar services for homeowners, builders, companies, government and military clients across the country. SEM earned the National Energy Star Partner of the Year award five times (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011). SEM also received the City of Raleigh 2011 Environmental Stewardship Award and the 2010 Green Jobs Award from SJF Institute and Green For All.
About Standard Solar
Standard Solar Inc. (standardsolar.com) is a leader in the full-service development, construction, integration, financing and installation of solar electric systems. Dedicated to making solar solutions more accessible to consumers, businesses, institutions and governments, Standard Solar is the partner of choice to make solar energy financially accessible. Named one of the Fastest Growing Private Companies in America in 2010 and 2011 by Inc. magazine, Standard Solar is headquartered in Rockville, Md.