Solar panels deliver new energy to West Point’s Net Zero initiative
By Mike Strasser
The installation of solar panels on the roof of the Lichtenberg Tennis Center—780 panels, to be exact—in recent weeks represents West Point’s continuing efforts to achieve energy sustainability.
Since becoming a Net Zero Energy pilot installation last April, West Point has been making strides toward the ultimate goal of producing as much energy as it uses by 2020. According to an environmental assessment for the U.S. Army Environmental Command and West Point Garrison, the installation currently generates less than .02 percent of the energy it consumes from renewable sources. Matt Talaber, Department of Public Works engineer and director, said the solar panels will be a step in the right direction.
“The solar panels are very visible and a very recognizable part of our renewable energy initiative that can immediately click with the general public,” Talaber said. “It’s a positive image that shows West Point is interested in renewable energy and is working on its Net Zero energy goals.”
The work began Oct. 15 with minor roof repairs before the panels were attached to a metal rack system. When the wiring to the interior controls is completed, the photovoltaic technology will service approximately 50-60 percent of the building’s energy consumption annually. The tennis center was an ideal location for the panels due to its southern exposure—lots of light—and an uninterrupted rooftop—no parking or other activity.
“We have our projections about how well these panels will do, but now we have a real functional lab, if you will, in a single building where we can really track current usage against past usage,” Talaber said.
Talaber admits the solar panels are high on the list of visible achievements for Net Zero, but they’re not the sole accomplishment to date. Talaber cited several multi-million dollar projects underway––all designed to improve energy savings so the installation will reach its goals.
“These (projects) are energy saving related projects happening in mechanical rooms and rooftops that aren’t as widely recognized as, say, solar panels or wind turbines,” Talaber said.
Paul Simihtis, DPW’s Energy Branch chief, said as the Net Zero process continues at West Point, it’s important to acknowledge that a major component in the end state is general conservation—reducing the post’s energy consumption.
“That’s the kind of thing that isn’t visible and hard for most people to see because those are the things we do inside the buildings—the controls and HVAC upgrades,” Simihtis said. “Creating renewable energy becomes the next piece in this.”
Behavior change is hard, Talaber said, but the message needs to be constant and continual in this process.
“It’s about getting into the basics of cutting back … shutting the window or turning the air condition down or the lights off,” Talaber said. “If many people do a lot of small things, we will realize great gains, and that’s the area we need to attack first.”
That’s where garrison tenants meet with academic departments to combine expertise, explore research opportunities and provide meaningful capstone projects for cadets to become involved. Talaber also credited the West Point Energy Council for its role in integrating subject matter experts to solve the installation’s energy problems.
Even before West Point was named a Net Zero installation, Talaber said it’s been a longstanding goal for all new construction to go beyond minimal energy efficiency standards.
As the Science Center and Bartlett Hall continue to take shape, signs have been posted around this construction indicating compliance to this mission. Any new building construction, Simihtis said, is targeted with an aggressive BTU-per square foot number to ensure optimal energy efficiency. He cited the Science Center and barracks projects as measuring up to these high standards.
“We’re on track to have one of the most efficient new barracks designs in the Army right now,” Simihtis said.
“When we renovate now we are much more sensitive to energy standards and new energy codes,” Talaber said. “But because we are Net Zero we’ve tried to go above and beyond the simple things like glazing of windows and building insulation. Part of our Energy Savings Performance contract, the first one we had, the company is conducting work on behavioral change and getting the message out about conservation.”
There’s a host of other energy savings initiatives being explored at DPW, from micro-hydro power and waste-to-energy projects to geothermal systems on the waterfront.
“There’s a wide array of possibilities and corresponding research being done,” Talaber said. “Our effort is being complemented by three different research labs across the country with foremost experts in energy conservation and renewable energy.”
The deadline to become energy efficient is several years away, but there’s still much to do to achieve its goals.
“We have quickly moved into project execution and are well on our way,” Talaber said. “Net Zero really helped focus us across the academy with this common goal.”