With an average of 270 sunny days, Southwest Florida lives up to the State’s reputation as “the Sunshine State”.  An endless supply of solar power flows through our blue skies, and forward-thinking businesses and homeowners are embracing this clean, renewable, energy –  a move essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, one of Growing Climate Solutions Founding Partners, is a leading example of how institutions are lightening their carbon footprint. It’s installing a total of 537 solar panels on the roofs of four of its campus buildings, as part of its commitment to sustainability and addressing the drivers of climate change. “Having an extensive capacity to generate electricity on the campus aligns with our environmental goals to use sustainable practices, as well as to educate our members and the public about the benefits of solar energy,” said Rob Moher, president and CEO of the Conservancy. Using and showcasing solar power will allow visitors to see and learn about the real-world application of renewable energy and hopefully inspire others to implement solar to reduce their environmental impact.

In addition to important environmental benefits, switching to solar will result in impressive economic savings.  Over the next 40 years, the panels are expected to result in a cumulative energy savings of $1 million, allowing these dollars to be invested directly into Conservancy programs. Maximizing the return on investment requires a careful assessment of the electrical usage and use pattern by building, the roof size and orientation, and the renewable power goals.  The Conservancy installed an interactive grid array, whereby the solar array on each building is sized to match that building’s power demand, any extra generation goes back to the electric grid run by Florida Power and Light. As each building’s solar array is tied to the building’s individual electric meter, and the power generated on a rooftop cannot be shared among buildings, even those on the same account, under today’s  FPL ‘net metering’ program, it is financially advantageous not to overproduce electricity on any single array.

Solar enthusiasts often suggest installing battery storage capacity to capture extra power and allow maximum power production. However, the Conservancy’s solar array does not include battery storage at this point, because, for instance, the multistory Environmental Policy Building draws more than what can be generated by the panels on its roof. Additionally, the electrical usage in many of the buildings occurs primarily during daylight hours. Battery storage is more beneficial to balance daytime generation with evening usage.  The solar array was flexibly designed by the Florida Solar Design Group to accommodate modifications as conditions change in the future.

As property owners consider solar installations for their own homes or businesses, common concerns that come up include: Do solar panels comprise the waterproof integrity of the roof and, do the panels blow off during hurricanes?  Jason Szumlanski of Florida Solar Design Group confidently asserts, “It’s a misconception that solar panels cause roof leaks. In fact, traditional barrel tile roofs have hundreds of penetrations of the underlayment product that seals the roof from water.”  When solar arrays are installed, sealants are applied both to the underlayment and top layer, making them more robust.  Likewise, solar mounting racks are designed to withstand extreme storm events, especially those approved for installation in the State of Florida.  Looking back on Hurricane Irma’s impact on the Keys and Southwest Florida, the buildings with solar arrays had little to no roof damage after that storm. The takeaway point is, don’t allow preconceived notions of solar power stop you from exploring this option. Rather, consult a solar installation expert and get objective information when weighing the possibility of installing an array.

Swapping out fossil fuels with renewable resources, like wind and solar, will help our community meet our growing energy needs and helps reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, NO3 and particulate matter related to burning fossil fuels.  Putting numbers to the environmental benefits resulting from this project paints a bright picture; it offsets the equivalent of an estimated 21,394 barrels of oil, 235, 887 trees planted and 1,917 vehicles taken off the road.  Lisa Martin, director of The Martin Foundation – which provided project funding – states, “What better place than the ‘Sunshine State’ to take advantage of the abundant and free solar energy and use it to reduce electricity expenses, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and reduce CO2 emissions.”