Solar panels are set to be installed on the roofs of six buildings on Georgetown University’s main campus by summer 2018 as part of a campuswide effort to reduce energy costs, promote sustainability and benefit low-income communities in the greater Washington, D.C. area.
The new solar systems on the Edward B. Bunn Intercultural Center, Regents Hall, the Davis Performing Arts Center, Alumni Square, McDonough Gymnasium and O’Donovan Hall, which together would provide 1.5 million kilowatt-hours of power each year, were originally set to be completed by fall 2017, but delays in the review and permit processes and weather concerns pushed the start date for construction back to February 2018.
The project, originally announced April 21, differs from another university initiative to provide nearly 50 percent of campus electricity through off-campus solar panels. The Hoya reported Sept. 22 that Georgetown is partnering with Origis Energy USA to build a solar power system off campus by the 2019-20 academic year.
The new solar panels will advance the university’s sustainability goals, according to Vice President of Planning and Facilities Management Robin Morey.
“The project creates environmental, social and economic benefits that are win-win for the University, our project partners and our local and global communities,” Morey wrote in an email to The Hoya.
All six buildings will remain open and in use while their roofs are fitted with the technology, including the Intercultural Center, Director of Utilities and Energy Programs Xavier Rivera said.
The ICC’s current solar photovoltaic system was first installed in 1984, and was the longest-running array of its size on an American college campus before the aging panels were disconnected in 2013. But the panels have remained on the roof of the ICC ever since, posing a challenge for the implementation of the project. The technology, while innovative for its time, now presents unique construction challenges as the panels are no longer producing power but still form part of the building’s roof.
Morey said the updates to the ICC solar panels will be conducted in phases, with the university removing the existing panels built into the roof and then installing a new roofing system with new solar panels during the spring and summer of 2018.
The project is a collaboration between the university, Root+Branch — a benefits corporation founded by alumna Laura Recchie (GRD ’10) — and Ohio-based Community Renewable Energy, the CEO of which is Recchie’s father, Joe Recchie.
Both corporations aim to increase access to renewable energy for low-income residents, nonprofits and institutions to spur sustainable development in local communities.
“We have this underlying mission to create more winners,” Laura Recchie said.
CRE will install and maintain ownership of the installations. For the first 20 years, the university will use the solar arrays at no cost, with CRE using energy credits and additional funding from the District to cover operational expenses.
After this initial 20-year period, Georgetown will pay CRE a fixed price for the energy the panels generate, which the company will put into a “community investment fund” to be used for additional local development projects, such as additional PV installations, housing and social services.
The university, CRE and Root+Branch hope to collaborate with the rest of the Georgetown community to decide how and where the community investment fund should be used in the District.
“We are committed with Georgetown to work together to find a direction for that investment,” Laura Recchie said.
Rivera said that following “Laudato Sí,” Pope Francis’ second encyclical in which he addresses climate change and environmental degradation, Georgetown sought to pursue its sustainability goals by creating a living learning laboratory, where students, professors, staff and administrators could engage with green technology on campus as a learning opportunity.
Rivera said the university is working with faculty to create a toolkit to make the process easily replicable for other universities or similar institutions.
“We are trying to streamline the process as we go so that it is easily followed and can be replicated over and over so that we can get more systems up and running,” Rivera said.
With a project of this size, cooperation and patience are the key to success, Laura Recchie said.
Joe Recchie emphasized the importance of the university’s strong relationships with stakeholders such as the Old Georgetown Board, which approves all construction projects due to Georgetown’s status as a historical neighborhood.
“Putting all those pieces together takes some skill and a high level of integration,” Joe Recchie said.
Looking to the future, Rivera said Georgetown hopes to integrate wind, solar and other innovative energy technologies into the main campus as well as its other campus in D.C.
“The next step would be to look at what other buildings we can extend this to, not only in our main campus, but also in the Law Center,” Rivera said.