Sisters’ monastery, topped by solar electric system, defines sustainability, gains LEED Platinum

Posted on July 21, 2010. Filed under: Solar |

From an article by Candace Roulo on

MADISON, WIS. — The Benedictine Women of Madison work toward environmental solutions and teach the importance of nature in daily life as part of their mission, thus, it was natural that they aimed for a high level of sustainability when building their new monastery, which recently received U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum certification. The monastery earned 63 out of a possible 69 points under the LEED for New Construction Version 2.2 Rating System, making it the highest rated LEED Platinum building for new construction in the U.S. . . .

According to Mark Hanson, director of sustainable services, Hoffman LLC, the building is connected to the grid, and over the course of the year, the future goal when the photovoltaic system is expanded is to produce as much energy as is utilized in the building. There are times when the building will import energy from the grid and other times when the building will export energy to the grid.

“They want to be net-zero energy,” said Hanson. “Once the sisters reach that goal, their peak production of power will coincide with that time of the year when there are peak loads on the grid. So this is actually grid friendly since the monastery will produce the most power when the grid needs it the most. The monastery may be able to help the grid when the power system is being stressed. In a sense, the monastery is being community friendly by being connected to the grid.”

The monastery is also participating in Madison Gas and Electric’s Clean Power Partner Program in which the utility company buys up to 10kW of green power at a premium price and then sells it to customers who want to use renewable energy and reduce their environmental footprint. The monastery sells its solar power to Madison Gas and Electric for $0.25 per kWh.

Photovoltaic system
The 20 kW photovoltaic system is made up of 88 Sharp 224 solar panels located on the chapel roof, which faces southwest. Three Fronius inverters, which convert DC to AC power, are located in the utility room. The 10 kW inverter is for the power being sold directly to Madison Gas and Electric via the Clean Power Partner buyback program, and the two 5 kW inverters are for the power that the building is using or is being sent back into the utility transmission grid.

According to Burke O’Neal, co-owner and director of Full Spectrum Solar, Madison, Wis., the photovoltaic system took approximately 23 days to install with three people working on the installation.

“The people on this project were really great to work with, the sisters and all the subcontractors were very enthusiastic,” said O’Neal. “It was exciting to be involved in the overall project. Sometimes projects are done and solar is added at the end. This project was different. The Sisters and project team knew they were going to use solar, so we got a nice large area on the south facing roof to incorporate solar into the project.

“This was the initial photovoltaic system, and I think they plan to add more solar to the project down the line, added O’Neal. “This can be a good component for a fundraiser. There is an initial investment with solar, but it gives back and reduces a building’s operating costs too.”

“Adding more panels would get us [the monastery] up to zero-net energy,” said Hanson. “Once the original project is paid off and fundraising is done for additional PV, hopefully there will be more panels for the rest of the monastery roof and for the roof on the adjacent retreat house.”


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