Case Studies:

American University

  • System Specs | six buildings and 2,150 solar modules 
  • System Production |
  • Environmental Benefits | 557 tons of carbon per year, the equivalent of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from 57,500 gallons of gasoline annually, or nearly 1 million gallons over twenty years.  

Aggressive Goals Require Creative Solutions

In 2011, American University pledged that it would be carbon-neutral by 2020 and decided to incorporate a campus-wide solar program involving six buildings and 2,150 solar modules to meet those goals.

Chartered in 1893 as a university with the goal of training future public servants, American University has always focused its attention on the future, along with a laser-like focus on making the world a better place. That’s one of the reasons that, in the spring of 2010, the school’s board of trustees and its president declared that the school would be carbon-neutral by 2020.

The following year, they would put their commitment on the line when they commissioned a solar project involving six buildings and 2,150 solar modules, with the goal of reducing the school’s electricity bills while also reducing its carbon footprint. The challenge, however, lay in finding a partner with the expertise to engineer solar arrays on tight rooftops along with the experience to work around the university’s tight class and activity schedules. After an exhaustive search, American University found its partner in Rockville, Md.-headquartered Standard Solar.

 

Challenging Rooftops

The university chose six buildings to host the solar arrays: Bender Library, Mary Graydon Building, Washington College of Law, New Mexico Building, Greenberg Theater and Katzen Art Center. None of the buildings had been designed with solar arrays in mind. Not only did the roofs have skylights, ventilation systems and other roof obstructions, some of the roofs ended up falling outside of the low-rise building category. That made designing ballasted racking systems—systems without roofing penetrations at all—much more challenging.

It took some creative engineering, but Standard Solar ultimately installed ballasted racking systems on four of the buildings, while the final two had hybrid systems, minimizing the need to penetrate the roof. It was a solution that alleviated concerns by the university that too many penetrations would compromise the overall roof integrity.

 

Logistical Magic

Another major concern for the university, located as it is in a residential area of Washington D.C., was the logistical portion of the project. After all, it’s no small feat to install a solar array, and with modules, racking and inverters all being delivered to a college campus, coordinating with the college’s academic functions was key.

Fortunately, Standard Solar had worked on other academic projects before and had the experience necessary to understand the quirks associated with installing arrays in an academic setting. Its project managers stayed in close contact with university officials and facilities managers to ensure the project went smoothly.

The materials were delivered on specific time schedules to prevent parking disruptions, and the actual installations were planned to minimize interruptions of students’ and teachers’ academic pursuits. As with their other projects, Standard Solar’s excellent communication allowed the projects to go off without any hitches.

 

Getting The Desired Results

The project allows the university to avoid producing more than 557 tons of carbon per year, the equivalent of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from 57,500 gallons of gasoline annually, or nearly 1 million gallons over twenty years.

Thanks to federal and local incentives, the arrays started reducing the school’s energy costs as soon as they were completed. The photovoltaic system was financed through a 20-year power purchase agreement with Washington Gas, which owns the system and sells the power it produces to the university.

The solar photovoltaic power system dramatically expanded the university’s commitment to solar that started with 27 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system installed on the LEED Gold certified School of International Service building years earlier.

In 2011, American University pledged that it would be carbon-neutral by 2020, setting an aggressive goal at a time when few individuals or institutions were thinking along those lines. To that end, they decided to incorporate a campus-wide solar program involving six buildings and 2,150 solar modules. The question, however, was how to find a partner that could negotiate the tight roof spaces on the historic college buildings while working around the challenging class and traffic schedules presented by an urban campus.

Fortunately, they didn’t have to look far. Just up the road in Rockville, Md., was Standard Solar, a nationally known developer and financier of solar projects. The company had a particular history with developing solar arrays for urban rooftops, and their history of working on other collegiate projects helped smooth the way for the project to be done.

The project allows the university to avoid producing more than 557 tons of carbon per year, the equivalent of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from 57,500 gallons of gasoline annually, or nearly 1 million gallons over twenty years.  

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