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Sustainability Strategies: Exploring the Benefits of a Solar Array

10.05.18 / Alisa Nagano, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

As we strive to meet our sustainability commitments at ARC, solar PV arrays have quickly become a critical component of our design solutions for many clients. Much of our work for independent schools and higher education is in athletics facilities with expansive, flat or low-slope roofs, perfect for hosting solar arrays. As PV technology continues to grow more efficient and less costly, payback and savings become very tangible. There are also tax incentives offered through many utilities, so the use of Solar PV is one energy-reduction strategy that’s becoming increasingly feasible to implement.

Two recently completed projects used their roofs to their full advantage, providing a home to nearly 3,000 panels combined. The new Thompson Field House at Phillips Exeter Academy boasts 1,552 solar panels (an area of 84,574 SF), making it the largest solar array at any school in New Hampshire. The array will generate approximately 600,000 kWh/year – enough to reduce the building’s projected energy use by 67% and save the school close to $2M over the life of the system. Payback is expected to be about 17 years.

Phillips Exeter Academy's solar array
Dusk’s pink-purple haze reflected off Thompson Field House's PV array (Chris Bowers)

An array on the newly completed Multipurpose Arena at Bentley University is also projected to generate about 600,000 kWh/year, reducing the use of electricity by 40% and saving the university roughly $1.5M in energy costs over the life of the PV system. Here, 1,400 solar panels contribute to making it the first standalone ice arena to achieve LEED Platinum Certification. Ice rinks are inherently energy-intensive building types, so the Platinum Certification is quite an accomplishment and the result of a concerted effort by all on the team.

Bentley Arena Solar Array
Solar array at Bentley Univeristy's Multipurpose Arena (Jeff Goldberg)

Put in carbon terms, the electricity generated by each of these arrays is equivalent to offsetting 629,694 pounds of carbon pollution. Combined, that’s about 64,280 gallons of gas per year, or 1,400,120 miles driven on an average passenger car – more than 56 times the circumference of the earth! That’s pretty good, right? Now let’s aim even higher.

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