Renewable Energy Generation in the Race to Zero Energy

The third “The Race to Zero Energy” Series session was held at PITT OHIO in the Strip District on July 21. Suitably, this session’s topic was renewable energy, and experts presented on solar, wind, and geothermal energy generation. We heard how these technologies can tie into the grid via net metering, and about how renewable energy is being used at Chatham University’s brand new Eden Hall Campus. In short, we learned that building owners and managers can use renewable technologies to generate their own power, save money in the long run, and reduce dependence on the grid.

Our panelists first presented on their specialties and we ended with a question and answer session led by our moderator, Sharon Pillar, a leader of numerous solar energy initiatives in the region, including Solarize Allegheny.

Joe Morinville, of Energy Independent Solutions (EIS) Solar, explained details of commercial solar installation. While some think our region is too cloudy to produce solar energy, Pittsburgh actually has a solar generation potential higher than that of Germany, where solar energy production is considerably higher than in the U.S.

With the cost of solar dropping over 50% since 2010, businesses are seeing solar energy as an increasingly feasible option. Property owners interested in installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on their rooftops should consider the size of their rooftop (the bigger the system, the quicker the payback), its orientation (if it is pitched, south-facing is best), and the amount of capital they are willing to invest. Incentives for solar generation include a 30% federal Investment Tax Credit, MACRS depreciation, and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates.

Mark Goyke, of WindStax, shared information about his company’s wind power systems. These vertical-axis wind turbines produce an average of 8,000 to 18,000 kWh annually. The systems ship fully assembled and are installed onsite in just 2 hours. Being close to the ground, the turbine’s parts are easily serviceable. Customers can also use the vertical pillars as advertising space. The system comes equipped with a battery storage system that releases energy on demand.

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Dr. Nina Baird, research faculty at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics, has conducted extensive research on large-scale geothermal heat pumps. She explained the potential of this technology to heat and cool buildings. With underground temperatures at a constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, the ground is a source of heat in the winter and a sink for excess heat in the summer. While some do not technically consider geothermal energy as “renewable,” a geothermal system outputs 400% of its energy input, making it a highly efficient way to heat and cool a building.

Ben Morris, of Duquesne Light, explained how businesses producing their own electricity can connect to the grid through the net metering interconnection application process.

The steps of the application process are as follows:

  1. Complete Interconnection Application/Agreement (Level 1 Applicants; All other Applicants)
  2. Complete Certificate of Completion (Level 1 applicants; All other applications)
  3. Complete Witness test

The electricity you generate will offset your electricity consumption from the grid. So, if you produce more than you consume during a given month, you will receive a credit for that amount of electricity at the full retail rate.

Dr. Peter Walker, Dean of the Falk School of Sustainability at Chatham University, described the University’s new Eden Hall Campus, where solar and geothermal systems provide electricity, heating and cooling to its buildings, all of which are LEED platinum certified. The campus’ 400 solar panels generate around 126,000 kWh annually. The geothermal wells provide “free cooling” in the summer, and dramatically reduce the heating load in the winter.

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Attendees got an up-close look at the Prism 343-Watt bifacial solar module. This rooftop array contains 180 modules producing approximately 55,000 kWh annually.

Our session ended with a tour of the roof of The Yards at 3 Crossings, an Oxford Development apartment complex neighboring PITT OHIO. Two buildings make up the complex, each boasting 180 bifacial solar modules installed by Scalo Solar. The buildings have white roofs to reflect sunlight onto the backside of each module, increasing their electricity production. While the rooftop panels are not visible to building occupants, a screen in the lobby displays information on the building’s solar generation. Remarkably, the payback period for their solar array is expected to be less than 2 years, due in part to tax credits. Because the bifacial system requires white roofing material, Oxford Development was able to claim tax credits for a portion of the roof.

Don’t forget to register for our last session, The Race to Zero Energy Series: Financing Strategies, on August 25th!

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