The Catholic University of America

Jan. 29, 2010

CUA Solar Panels Producing Energy for Four Campus Buildings

Catholic University has joined the ranks of energy producers.

A solar-panel system installed on the rooftops of four campus buildings late last year is now producing electricity, said Brian Alexander, CUA’s director of energy and utilities management.

More than 1,000 3-by-6-foot solar panels were installed before the semester break in December. Pepco, the university’s electricity provider, declared the solar-energy system operational on Jan. 15 after the system was tied into the utility grind, meters were added and inspections were passed.

The 30,233 square feet of panels on the rooftops of the Raymond A. DuFour Center and Aquinas, Flather and Gibbons halls comprise a 294-kilowatt system, the largest solar-energy system in the metro Washington, D.C., area in terms of electricity produced. The system is expected to produce about 340,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year, or up to 20 percent of the electricity used by the four buildings.

In its first two weeks of operation, the system generated 6,000 kilowatts of electricity, Alexander says. “That’s what we expected. The sun is currently at its lowest angle in the sky. The amount of electricity produced will increase as the sun gets higher in the sky and we have more hours of daylight.”

Power generated by the panels is converted from direct current to alternating current by an inverter and then included in the electricity that is distribution within the building. All the electricity produced by solar panels is used within the building where it is generated.

Ten CUA electricians have undergone training to become familiar with the solar-energy system that is owned, operated and maintained by Washington Gas Energy Services Inc. (WGES). CUA signed a 20-year agreement with WGES to purchase electricity generated by the system at guaranteed prices.

Since being installed, the panels have withstood snow that measured about two feet and winds that gusted to more than 35 mph. Although the panels don’t produce energy when covered in snow, they are designed to hold up under six feet of snow and 90-mph winds, said C.J. Colavito, project manager from Standard Solar, the Gaithersburg, Md., company that installed the panels.

CUA is the first university in the District of Columbia to have a solar-energy system and power-purchase-agreement. “This is a landmark project because it is going to open up the door for other universities and similar organizations to be able to do the same,” Colavito says.

CUA’s use of solar energy will result in 294 fewer tons of carbon dioxide being emitted annually, the equivalent of emissions created by the use of 30,300 gallons of gasoline.

Students in the School of Engineer’s “An Introduction to Alternative Energy” course toured the solar-panel installation with Associate Professor Scott Mathews. “To have students see a real installation is a very valuable teaching experience,” Mathews says.

Students, faculty and staff soon will have access via the CUA Web site to real-time data on the campus’ solar-energy production.