Nature Conservancy Rings in Solar New Year
Photovoltaic system advances quest for sustainability
TNC's new rooftop photovoltaic system.
The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i will ring in the New Year newly equipped with a state-of-the-art photovoltaic (PV) system that allows the non-profit to generate clean energy and reduce its carbon emissions.
The powerful 12.6 kilowatt PV system was just installed atop the rooftop of the Conservancy’s downtown Honolulu office. Hawai‘i Energy Connection engineered and supervised the project in collaboration with Siu’s Electric, the firm’s commercial installation partner.
“We are thrilled that these panels are helping us to reduce our use of petroleum-based fuel,” said Suzanne Case, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i executive director. “With our conservation mission, it’s imperative that we do our part and walk the talk.”
Global climate change caused by greenhouse gases has emerged as the greatest threat to biodiversity, Case said, “and solving Hawaii’s energy security crisis also helps save our native environment.”
Case said that the new sun-powered system “puts us well on our way to meeting our goal of earning certification as the first green existing building in the state. And – we save money.”
The 72-panel PV system, together with the building’s new energy-efficient air conditioning system and light fixtures retrofitted with compact fluorescents, is projected to reduce the Conservancy’s overall energy consumption by more than 40% in the coming year.
“This system perfectly fits the Conservancy and expresses what they’re about,” said Chris DeBone, project manager and co-founder of Hawai‘i Energy Connection. “It’s so exciting to see them really pushing to change their operations, to be an example of energy efficiency for the environmental and social aspects of it.”
About 94% of Hawaii’s energy comes from burning fossil fuels for electricity, said Steve Godmere, co-founder of the contracting firm. “So it’s fun to work with people who are so passionate about integrating a PV solution.”
The Conservancy’s high-performance photovoltaic system is typically valued at over $100,000.In a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) structured by Hawai‘i Energy Connection, the cost of the system was capitalized up front by a private investor and will be paid over time by the Conservancy as the user. The group will buy the power generated by the renewable energy system at a reduced rate below current utility pricing. The agreement structures the tax incentive provided by the state and federal governments to encourage users to install photovoltaic systems, to enable the investor to take the tax credit and thereby reduce the cost to the non-profit which otherwise could not use the tax credit.
What was unusual and challenging in this instance, DeBone said, “was finding a way that a system this small could qualify. "Typically, PPAs start in the million dollars per system range, and large-scale investors are usually interested in finding large-scale projects.”It was only through rigorous, creative problem solving by all the players that a solution was found.
“This is the first time in Hawai‘i that it’s being done on such a small scale — and involving a nonprofit — that we’re aware of,” DeBone said. “Now we have a new business model that can be used to help other small non-profits find their own solutions and obtain their own PV systems.”
According to DeBone, the Conservancy’s system is among the first commercial PV installations in the islands to use the latest in micro-inverter technology. “From a technical standpoint, this technology is really revolutionizing the whole industry,” he said. Micro-inverters are able to generate more power per DC watt due to increased efficiency.
The Conservancy purchased the Wing Wo Tai Building with its graceful gray stone façade on Nu‘uanu Avenue in 2005 to house its Honolulu office. Originally built in 1877 and rebuilt in 1916, the wood and stone structure survived the Great Fire of Honolulu in 1900, and now demonstrates how even historic buildings can be adapted to meet 21st century needs. “Even with our historic designation status,” Case said, “we were easily able to install cutting-edge technology that blends into our building design.”
In 2006, after taking stock of its organizational carbon emissions, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i program committed itself to greening all aspects of its operations — from generating energy to reducing water and energy consumption to implementing green cleaning, solid waste management and sustainable purchasing policies.
The Honolulu building is on track to become the first existing building in Hawai‘i to go green under the stringent requirements of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building certification program. LEED is the nationally recognized standard for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.
By late 2009, the Conservancy’s Moloka‘i office will also be outfitted with a similar PV system that will fully power the building — taking it totally off the grid.
“We are just doing what we can to tackle the global climate problem on a local level,” Case said. “By taking steps to shrink our own carbon footprint, we can be part of the solution.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.