Solar For City and Schools: Solar Potentials Study For The City of Faribault

The City of Faribault was awarded a 2017 Seed Grant from the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) for Solar for City and Schools.   The project’s focus is on exploring the potential for on-site solar energy and achieving Net Zero Energy for 18 buildings owned by the City of Faribault, Faribault Public Schools, as well as Shattuck-St. Mary’s. The City engaged paleBLUEdot llc, a Minnesota Climate and Renewable Energy consultancy to complete this project which has has been on-going throughout the year and is nearing completion. 

What, exactly, has the City learned through the Solar for City and Schools project?  We were hoping you would ask! 

Energy Use Efficiency Comparison
Understanding both total electric use and overall energy efficiency of a building are important first steps in prioritizing buildings to receive solar pv.  Initial facility reviews were conducted on the City Government and Faribault Public School buildings as a part of this planning effort.  This included a review of each facility’s energy use history and the total annual electric use and overall building energy use (including natural gas) was identified, recorded, and reviewed.  The data reviewed and recorded in this report was obtained through the City and School district’s B3 Benchmarking account.

Using 2017 data, the electric consumption of the 12 sites for which data was available totals just over 7,000,000 kilowatt hours annually – or just a bit over 8 kilowatt hours per square foot of building.  From this review, we know that the City Hall and Faribault Middle School both have than the average energy efficiency of their peer groups in the State.  Some of the buildings, like the Washington Center and the Alternative Learning Center are currently below average energy efficiency.  Conducting a more detailed energy efficiency assessment on the City and School District buildings may identify opportunities for the City and District to increase energy efficiency and cost savings.

Solar Feasibility
We conducted solar feasibility assessments to explore the general potential for solar on each site with the goal of achieving a Zero Net Energy site (a site which generates as much electricity within a year as it consumes within the same timeframe).  These assessments included the development of a detailed solar array design for each building and site.  We also created a detailed computer model of the annual power generation each site would produce – using actual weather data. 

With this modeling complete, we were able to include a 30 year projection of energy production and economic payback for each site.  In all, the 18 sites modeled could produce over 18,000,000 kilowatt hours of power in the first year alone! On average, the energy these sites might generate has a value 2 ½ to 3 times the estimated costs to install the arrays…meaning many of these sites could see cost savings by installing solar.

Environmental Payback
Increasing use of Solar PV for electricity generation in Faribault facilities will offer benefits beyond the economic payback, namely the reduction of Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) and the reduction of fresh water use.  Greenhouse gas emissions form, primarily, from the burning of fossil fuels for things like transportation, heating, and generation of electricity.  The generation of electricity also uses significant amounts of fresh water in the extraction of fuels and steam turbines.  For every kilowatt hour used in Faribault, over 5,300 gallons of fresh water is consumed and nearly 1 pound of greenhouse gases are emitted – this is equivalent to over 7 cubic feet of man-made greenhouse gas atmosphere.  In total, the solar potential identified in the Solar for City and Schools project represents:

·        199,770,000 kwh of solar electricity generated over 30 years

·        72,916 metric tons of greenhouse gases avoided

·        1,061,000,000 gallons of water conserved

Solar For Your Home or Business
Installing solar panels on your roof is a sound financial decision in almost every state in the nation and Minnesota is no exception!  Many business and home owners are unfamiliar with solar and are unsure exactly how to “go solar” – so here are a few tips:

A key consideration for going solar is often what the economic payback might look like, so exploring payback is a great first step.  Costs and payback can change based on how large of an array you install compared with how much energy you use – so it can help to explore different solar array sizes to find the size array that gives you the best benefit.  Solar pv ownership is typically a great long-term investment, however, out-right purchase of the array may not always be the best option for some – in that instance there are a number of alternative financing and ownership options.  You can find resources for how to explore the solar potential here.