By Lisa Walsh | Commercial Solar Developer | Solar Energy Services, Inc.
For the newly-finished Taylor Street Storage facility in North East DC, a 17,500 square foot green roof with fully integrated solar panel array that showcase a value-stacked, elegant design providing both a cost-effective solution to storm-water management. All without forfeiting the solar panels that generate income via federal tax incentives and DC’s superb solar production-based financial incentives.
With over three million square feet of green roofs in Washington DC and 50MW+ of solar installations – the City is no stranger to either technology. However, the integration of both on the same roof is less common, despite the symbiotic relationship between the two offering a number of advantages.
Approval for a commercial building permit in Washington DC must include a storm-water management plan as defined by DC’s Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE). For Taylor St, the Development team could have chosen between:
- Lost parking spaces to house costly underground containers for capturing and storing runoff
- Payment of ever-increasing storm-water management fees
- Implementation of a multi-layered Green Roof to treat 100% of the rainfall obligation with a perennial, sedum based plant surface – as per DOEE requirements.
The green roof offered a cost-effective storm-water management solution that required no additions or demo’s to the existing structure.
Most savvy developers realize that an empty roof in Washington DC is money left on the table. With the best solar financial incentives in the USA, the payback is rapid followed by years of production-based paydays. Small wonder that the development team at Taylor Street were interested if – and how – a solar array could integrate with a Green Roof. The good news is not only does the solar system seamlessly integrate with the green roof but the relationship is one of symbiosis and cost-effectiveness. Here’s why:
BALLAST. Most solar systems installed on DC’s commercial flat roof areas are ballasted. i.e. an assortment of concrete blocks, along with the weight of the solar panels and racking, is engineered to hold down the weight of the array with minimal or no penetrations to the roof membrane.
With close to 35 PSF of weight, a green roof more-than provides this ballast negating the need for concrete blocks or supplemental attachments. This is worth mentioning as the Green Roof is now a fully engineered component of the solar system bringing the question of tax credit eligibility into play. Is the Green Roof, or portion of, now eligible for the 30% Federal Tax Credit? Certainly worth conferring with a tax adviser.
CREATION OF A MICRO-CLIMATE: Furbish designs their perennially healthy green roofs with a wide palette of sedum species. These drought-resistant succulants require little maintenance and have varying requirements for daily sunlight – from full-sun to all-shade. Contrary to first impressions the intermittent shading and weather protection provided by the solar panels provide a micro-climate highly conducive to the plants underneath, in between and around the solar arrays.
DESIGN: Most ballasted solar systems have ample aisles between each row of solar panels insuring that each solar panel is optimized and avoiding shading from the panel row in front. Solar panels can also be tilted anywhere between 5 and 35 degrees. This is adjusted to account for shading, panel count and orientation considerations. This flexibility of design was helpful for integration the green roof. Aisle spacing, solar panel size and tilt were designed with the Green roof in mind – not only as it relates to healthy plants, but also for annual maintenance access requirements.
CHALLENGES: Solar-integrated green roofs are not as common as their singular counterparts. Fair to say this project did not come without some challenges
DOEE DESIGN STANDARDS: Department of Energy and Environment is responsible for DC’s Stormwater Management and insuring all DC buildings comply with runoff standards. The burden was on SES and Furbish to ensure that the solar arrays were not going to impede the ability of the plants to thrive and provide the necessary water retention requirements. The design and permitting side of the project insofar as panel tilt, aisle spacing and racking integration were designed in collaboration with DOEE.
INSTALLATION TIMELINES: Furbish Company are Green Roof specialist, Solar Energy Services, Inc. are solar specialists. Integrating these technologies took heightened coordination between our installation teams, mostly in terms of labor efficiency, communication and timeliness. The latter was particularly stringent as the Certificate of Occupancy, required to meet the developer’s lease requirements, was contingent upon the completion of the Green Roof which now included solar racking, wiring and panel installations. Throw in some PEPCO Permission to Install challenges related to the solar portion, and the pressure was on.
The project came with some unusual PEPCO interconnection timing challenges at the end. Ironically not related to the Green Roof aspect of the application. Nonetheless, this system is now outputting electricity like gangbusters. All’s well that’s ends well.