The following article, written by Andrew Merecicky, appeared March 11, 2014 on the Solar Power World website. Read below, or view the contents on solarpowerworldonline.com.

Public-sector institutions have a unique opportunity to invest in and champion renewable energy projects. More than mere members of the community, these institutions are products of it via public support and tax-payer funding. As such they are well-positioned to explore, invest in and advocate for more environmentally and economically sustainable practices.

One such practice to consider is installing a solar panel array, which can greatly reduce the grid electricity usage of public buildings.  Reducing the electric bill frees valuable finite funds for expanding programs and services which serve the public directly. What’s more, the addition of new public programs and services can often translate to job creation at these institutions. Not to mention someone has to install all those solar panels in the first place, which is part of the reason solar energy is among the few industries consistently adding jobs. In fact, since September 2013, the solar industry has added jobs at ten times the national average, according to the National Solar Job Census conducted by the Solar Foundation.

(Solar) Installation Art

One great example of an institution taking this imperative seriously is the Toledo Museum of Art.  The museum became a leader in public works renewable energy projects by installing a solar array to the roof of its historic 101-year-old building, which houses its world-renowned art collection. The installation was completed by Advanced Distributed Generation.

Because the museum is within Toledo’s Old West End Historic District, concealing the array from sight at ground level was an important consideration. Installation components were selected based on their low-profile design and their reliable performance in flat or near-flat conditions. This was the case for Nextronex‘s Ray-Max inverter system, which at 27″ tall is the first low-profile 1000-V system approved on the market. Likewise, First Solar PV panels were chosen for their ability to work reliably in a low-profile rooftop array.

For Nextronex, the motivation for contributing to any installation is always to see the use of solar energy, and the benefits therein, expand throughout the energy marketplace; but the company was especially proud to work with the Toledo Museum of Art.

“We are a Toledo-based company,” says Jay Troger, CEO of Nextronex. “Working closely with our Toledo neighbors for the benefit of our community is fantastic.”

The rooftop array produces 200kW and, in conjunction with the recently added 360-kW car canopy array in the main parking lot, the museum can supply 50% of its own energy needs on a sunny day. During the long, clear summer days, the museum has been able to provide 100% of its own energy demand.

“The most significant benefit to the public,” says Carol Bintz, COO of the Toledo Museum of Art, “is that the cost savings from the energy conservation have been used to maintain free daily admission to the museum’s world class collection,  create arts programs and expand educational opportunities for the public — many of which are offered free of charge.”

Wild Power

Another Toledo-based institution that deserves recognition for its renewable initiatives is the Toledo Zoo. In December, contractor Rudolph/Libbe (a Solar Power World Top 250 Contractor) completed the first phase of the 2.1-MW Anthony Wayne Solar installation; phase two is expected to be completed at the end of May 2014. The array is anticipated to provide 30% of the zoo’s electrical consumption.

We knew this project would offer the zoo clean, cost effective, renewable energy over more than a quarter-century, the lifespan of the project,” Chairman of Rudolph/Libbe Companies, Bill Rudolph says. “Conservation is an integral part of the Toledo Zoo’s mission, and we’re honored to support that mission.”

The array project is located in a reclaimed brownfield site which had been vacant for years. Such a location is ideal, because the array not only reduces the blight of the surrounding residential area but makes the land profitable again, allowing the city of Toledo to resume collecting property taxes from its use. A full two-phase environmental assessment was also conducted to ensure the suitability of the land before construction began.

Many of the components used in the installation were manufactured and developed by Toledo companies, an important aspect of the project for Rudolph/Libbe and the zoo. The PV panels were developed in Toledo by Calyxo. Nextronex, once again, contributed the inverters.

This is very much a northwest Ohio project,” says Rudolph. “We felt very strongly about using local labor and local vendors to benefit the local economy.”

At the end of the day, public institutions are ultimately responsible to the public interest and their community; a responsibility which must absolutely include substantial consideration for environmental sustentation. The successes of the Toledo Museum of Art and the Toledo Zoo make undeniable cases for continued public investment in renewable energy.