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Solar panels slated for Arlington Library roof

January 28, 2011 - 05:15 AM
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Arlington Central Library
Soon, solar panels may be glinting from the roof of Arlington's Central Library. (Photo: TBD Staff)

A lot of people in Arlington are wishing for sun after this week's storms, but some of them may have an ulterior motive. In a few months time, the Arlington Central Library should be at least partially solar powered, with the county expected to hire a contractor in February to install solar panels on the library's roof.

Installation of the panels is expected to be complete before the summer's peak electricity load hits, according to Arlington County energy manager John Morrill.

The panels, expected to cost about $300,000, are being paid for with federal grant money awarded to Arlington in the stimulus package.

The 60-kilowatt solar project is the largest Arlington has undertaken to date; the county installed a 9-kilowatt solar panel system on the roof of the new Westover branch library when it was built in 2009.

The Central Library in Ballston was ideal for the next pilot project for a couple of reasons, according to Morrill. First, the county has already undertaken a number of efficiency measures at the library, which has cut electricity consumption there by about 30 percent during the past 10 years. 

Secondly, "the building has a large, flat, unshaded roof, which makes it appealing for solar installations," says Morrill. Well, yeah. That makes sense.

It also uses a lot of electricity, despite previous efficiency measures. "It really is a large commercial building," Morrill says. The solar panels are expected to provide about 15 percent of the library's efficiency usage during peak times in the summer. That means a $10,000 savings on the library's annual energy bill, at least by today's rates.

The county could opt to install additional panels and add to the total solar energy output in the future, Morrill adds, but decided to be cautious for both project management and financial reasons at first. "We have a 9 kilowatt system under our belt, so to speak, and this is a significant increase over that," he said. "In the future, the prospect of either additional solar at this site or at other sites is likely."

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