The Tale of Two Cities’ Solar Solutions

By Bill Guiney, Johnson Controls

According to a report by Environment America, the United States can expect to spend approximately $360 billion more per year on fossil fuels by 2030 than it did in 2006. As global concern about rising fossil fuel prices and the resulting economic impact increases, momentum is building across the United States towards innovative energy efficiency strategies to implement economical energy solutions that benefit the environment.

As a result, schools, colleges and universities, state and local governments, businesses, and other organizations are turning to solar technology. On-site solar systems provide clean, reliable power and help local economic development to thrive, without burning fossil fuels or generating pollution, greenhouse gases or solid waste.

Innovative financing models enable solar installations

Through performance contracting, organizations can finance these solar power installations without a significant up-front investment. This method of contracting enables users to make energy-related improvements, save on energy expenditures, reduce emissions, improve sustainability, and address tight budgets. The resulting utility and operational savings can be used to offset the cost of the upgrades. If the guaranteed savings are not realized, the energy service company will pay the difference between what is guaranteed and the actual cost savings.

Organizations around the world are reaping the benefits of on-site solar power, including two municipalities that recently harnessed the power of sunlight to help power their operations.

Baltimore, Maryland

The city of Baltimore has proven itself as a pioneer in energy self-sufficiency with a recently-completed solar installation at Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. As part of an energy performance contract with Johnson Controls, the project is helping the city achieve its goal to self-generate 30 percent of its electricity.

The installation includes a 4,116-panel solar voltaic system that is spread across five acres on the grounds of the treatment plant. The one-megawatt DC system is capable of generating more than 1,276,000 kWh per year. By generating clean, renewable energy at a low cost, the city can free up dollars for other initiatives.

The solar installation is anticipated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 9,500 metric tons annually – equivalent to planting 245,000 trees and removing nearly 1,800 passenger vehicles from the road. The project also supports the local economy, creating 75 jobs during construction, while fostering the city’s environmental goals.

The solar voltaic system is expected to save Baltimore more than $6 million over the life of the contract. The installation marks another stride in the city’s drive towards energy independence, while establishing national leadership in the use of self-generated power.

Tulare, California

With a population of roughly 52,000, Tulare, Calif., is located in the middle of the Central San Joaquin Valley, one of the most productive agricultural areas in the country. With plenty of sunshine, Tulare is also an ideal place to generate solar power.Tulare partnered with Johnson Controls to upgrade the city’s water system and improve the energy efficiency of city facilities.

As part of the project, a one-megawatt DC solar photovoltaic system was installed on the grounds adjacent to the city’s wastewater treatment facility to generate more than 1,860,000 kWh of renewable energy annually. The system is expected to save the city more than $6.4 million in energy and operational costs over 15 years, and will help offset the remaining power needs for the plant.

In addition to the design and installation, Johnson Controls facilitated the interconnect agreement with the local electrical utility and assisted Tulare with the documentation required to apply for available funding. The more than $2.3 million of funding for the solar system came through the California Solar Initiative (CSI) Program and a $438,000 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant.

With the installation complete, the ESCO remains under contract for five years to provide maintenance and operational support, and will track and report energy and cost savings to the city over the course of the contract.

Pioneers in renewable energy self-sufficiency

The solar installations in both Baltimore and Tulare demonstrate that local governments and organizations can generate their own clean power from the sun while helping protect the environment, ensure their energy security and save money. These municipalities are two prime examples of how, over multiple project phases, coupling energy efficiency with on-site renewable energy facilities can facilitate sustainability.


Bill Guiney is the Director of the Solar Thermal Business at Johnson Controls, Inc. His areas of responsibility have included both Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal technologies. Bill is currently developing the Solar Water Heating program and building the internal capabilities of Johnson Controls. Bill has more than 30 years of experience in the solar industry as a retailer, contractor, distributor, manufacturer and educator.

Bill has provided many Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency training programs and has been an instructor for solar thermal energy systems at the North Carolina and Florida Solar Energy Centers in addition to the DOE Train-the-trainers programs for North Carolina State University (Southern Mid-Atlantic) and the University of Central Florida (Southeast). Bill is on the solar thermal technical committee of the North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP) and Chaired the Entry Level Solar Thermal Committee.

image: Chandra Marsono via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)

This article was reprinted with permission from Sustainable Industries.

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