Case Studies:

Potomac Watershed Study Center

  • System Specs | 47.9 kW
  • System Production | 63,509 MWh per year
  • Environmental Benefits | 31,400 pounds of trash taken out of landfills |  4,284 gallons of oil burned |  1,825 propane cylinders used for home barbeques

A Living Example Of Protecting The Potomac Watershed

The fragile Potomac Watershed, which stretches from southern Pennsylvania to Virginia and encompasses parts of West Virginia and Washington D.C., contains 54.6 percent forests and is home to 6.11 million people. Its preservation has been a cause célèbre since its water pollution levels reached terrifying levels in the 1940s, and conservation and cleanup efforts are regular events for Watershed residents—and educating current and future generations is the key to protecting the area from unnecessary harm.

To further the cause, The Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) in Accokeek, Md., an environmental non-profit established in 1954, creates educational programs for students, educators, park rangers, communities, regional organizations and government agencies throughout the Potomac Watershed to enhance understanding about the ecosystem.

In 2013, the foundation embarked on a quest to prove a net-zero water, net-zero energy, zero-waste and carbon-neutral facility was not only possible but preferable to traditional buildings. That dream became the Potomac Watershed Study Center (PWSC), located on the foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center. The PWSC will house students, and has a day-use educational building, two sleeping cabins and an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-accessible wetland boardwalk.

But getting to net-zero wasn’t easy, especially the energy part of the equation. Fortunately, AFF turned to the experienced team at Standard Solar to install a 49.7 kW solar array on the building.

Part of what makes the PWSC extraordinary is that it leaps past the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum standards for sustainability to reach those of the Living Building Challenge. To be certified as a Living Building, seven categories must be met: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty, and there are few buildings so designated. So the challenge before the Standard Solar engineers was this: Create a solar array large enough to power the building and its activities, but make it attractive enough to avoid spoiling the natural beauty of the building and its bucolic surroundings.

As part of a business located in the watershed district, Standard Solar embraced the opportunity to contribute to its preservation. The experienced engineers at Standard Solar studied and dissected the requirements of the Living Building Challenge so the array would help AFF’s attempts to acquire this prized designation. The resulting 47.9 kW system blends seamlessly into the Farm’s location and powers 100 percent of the building’s energy needs without emitting any harmful gasses.

The 174-panel installation produces 63,509 MWh of electricity a year—a significant step in helping the center meet the strict requirements of the Living Building Challenge. Its net-zero system not only produces no CO2, but it also produces enough energy to equate to 31,400 pounds of trash taken out of landfills, 4,284 gallons of oil burned and 1,825 propane cylinders used for home barbeque.

“Solar power provides 100 percent of the electricity used on the site and exports power to the grid,” said Lori Arguelles, executive director at the Alice Ferguson Foundation. “We were proud to partner with a local company like Standard Solar to make this wonderful project happen.”

The center will enhance the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) educational opportunities at the site and will have an online-based dashboard that will provide real-time building performance to engage not only with its students, but other Watershed residents as well.

Potomac Watershed Study Center solar array
Potomac Watershed Study Center solar array 2

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