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Head Office Solar in Ohio

Downtown Toledo is now home to an iconic renewable energy project with the recent completion of a 2.4-MW solar facility-one of the largest solar installations in the U.S. Midwestat the headquarters of Owens Corning.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Owens Corning, a major manu-facturer of insulation products used to make buildings around the world more energy efficient, is now showing the way on another energy efficiency front. It has installed a 2.4-MW solar power array on its headquarters carport roof in downtown Toledo, Ohio.

All the power generated by the array will be used directly at Owens Corning headquarters, providing about 30 percent of the facility's annual power requirements. The remainder will continue to come from the local power utility, Toledo Edison.

Energy company Constellation (a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation) financed, built, owns, and operates the solar array, having secured a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Owens Corning for the power it generates. Owens Corning had no upfront costs to install the project, although it has multiple options (but no requirement) to take an ownership stake after the sixth year of the PPA. Construction of the 8,000-panel solar array was timed well, as it was installed at the same time that Owens Corning planned to refurbish and re-surface the 935-space carport, making it one of the largest solar installations in the Midwest. According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), power generated from this array will displace the release of about 2069 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or the equivalent of emissions from 436 passenger vehicles per year.

Employees and visitors to Owens Corning's headquarters can view energy output data from the solar power system in real time from a kiosk in the building lobby. Constellation also provided two electric car charging stations within the carport, allowing four cars to recharge at once.

As part of its agreement with Constellation, Owens Corning has retained all environmental attributes from the Toledo project, including the marketable Class I Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) from the system. Both the power supply and retention of the SRECs were factored in when calculating the rate charged by Constellation.

Owens Corning has set a high standard to reduce its energy consumption footprint, having already met its 2020 sustainability goals for greenhouse gas emissions, which was set at a 20 percent reduction of its 2010 consumption baseline. A new target has been set—50 percent reduction by 2020.

This is the second solar project that Owens Corning has implemented in partnership with Constellation. Two years ago, Constellation installed a 2.7-MW solar project at the company's facility in Feura Bush, New York.

"Once again, Constellation has delivered, helping us to imagine and then build a large-scale solar photovoltaic system to deliver significant renewable energy to our facility, and at the same time, become an iconic structure for Owens Corning and the downtown Toledo streetscape," says Frank O'Brien-Bernini, Owens Corning vice president and chief sustainability officer.


Constellation is a major participant in the renewable energy industry, with over 250 MWs of solar projects installed or under development. It is well-versed in ownership and operation of solar power arrays similar to the one it owns at Owens Corning's headquarters in Toledo. Brendon Quinlivan, Constellation's director of origination - Distributed Energy, says about 80 percent of the Distributed Energy team's time is spent investigating potential partnerships with what he called "strategic channel partners" who already have projects in the pipeline related to solar power, co-generation, or fuel cells.

"We typically get engaged at the early to middle stage of project development and provide the power purchase agreement, which helps to facilitate the construction of the facility," he says. "We own and operate the facility long term, similar to what we are doing with the Owens Corning solar system, both in Toledo and New York."

He adds that the approach where a solar power developer or distributor takes all the financial risk upfront with the construction of a solar installation after securing a PPA has become more commonplace over the past decade. This has become one of the more popular business models for customers to adopt.

"Many of the national business accounts, schools, and municipal entities in the U.S. have started to lean towards a power purchase agreement, purchasing their energy generated from the system, and preserving their capital for more specific investments related to what it is that they do," says Quinlivan. Many have recognized that it makes more sense to focus on their core competencies, which rarely involves the intricacies of owning and operating a solar power array, while partnering with companies like Constellation, which has expertise in that area.

For behind-the-meter projects like Owens Corning's, Constellation focuses its efforts in jurisdictions like Ohio and other states that allow solar power providers to sell the power they generate directly to the end user, rather than having to deliver it through a power utility. In these jurisdictions, Constellation's primary targets are commercial, industrial, municipal, and institutional clients like school systems.

 Employees and visitors to Owens Corning's headquarters can view energy output data from the solar power system in real time from a kiosk in the building lobby. Constellation also provided two electric car charging stations within the carport (right), allowing four cars to recharge at once.

The eight-month construction of the Owens Corning solar array began in March and was completed in October 2015. In terms of suppliers, Kuhlman Corp. supplied the concrete supports; Yingli supplied the 8,000 solar panels; SMA was the inverter supplier; and GEM Inc. was both the electrical supplier and contractor.

The 2.4-MW canopy is expected to supply approximately 30 percent of the facility's annual electricity needs and offset the equivalent greenhouse gases emitted from the commute of its local workforce.

RBI Solar supplied the steel support and framing. RBI designed the canopy with its new I-Beam, dual-knee brace design. Additional enhancements such as ice guards were added to the canopy to offer protection to employees during winter weather conditions, and the gutters and decking give the structure an integrated water management system. The tilt on the system is seven degrees, and its foundation is concrete pier and post. RBI's scope of work included: design, engineering, and manufacturing of the support structure providing the posts, trusses, purlin, downspouts, ice guards, and decking. RBI was not contracted to do the installation, but was involved and available to consult on install issues through project completion.

The Conti Group was the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) provider on the project. Drainage installation was handled by Dick Helminiak & Sons Inc.; Toledo Caisson Corporation installed the foundation; and FC Contracting was the steel erector.

"It was actually a very efficient build for both us and the customer," says Quinlivan. "It was choreographed with a complete resurfacing of the entire parking lot."

The project has considerable public profile being located right in downtown Toledo. Typically, this is not an easy environment to install a solar project because of such issues as shade from nearby buildings and general availability of the necessary surface area to locate a solar array. The Owens Corning project is described by Quinlivan as a "unique situation" where the location of the headquarters campus did provide the necessary footprint to deploy the project in this challenging environment.

Construction of the 8,000-panel solar array was timed well, as it was installed at the same time that Owens Corning planned to refurbish and re-surface the 935-space carport, making it one of the largest solar installations in the Midwest. 

From a weather standpoint, Ohio provides challenges typically not faced in similar carport projects that Constellation has installed in the Southwest and California. The project had to be designed keeping in mind the significant amount of snowfall and rain that the Toledo area receives annually. Therefore, drainage was an important issue in the project design.

"Snow load, snow shed, and ice shedding all need to be considered when you use carports [for solar arrays] in the northeast," says Quinlivan. Given Constellation's experience building other similar solar power installations in the area, the company was familiar with how these types of carports must be designed to accommodate the solar array infrastructure as well as the people using the carport.

The system is designed with what Quinlivan described as an "undercarriage" so that as snow melts and ice begins to form, it protects the vehicles and the personnel using the carport below. Being that it was part of the Owens Corning headquarters campus, there was a bit more attention paid to the overall appearance of the solar array, with much of the wiring and conduits to support the installation built into the overall structure, while still adhereing to local building codes.

Outside of a solar project at the Toledo Zoo, the nature and size of the Owens Corning project was a relatively new experience for local building authorities and Toledo Edison, which was a key partner as the project unfolded.

Quinlivan says Constellation's experience, having constructed projects like this throughout the U.S., helped to streamline and advance conversations related to the technical intricacies of meeting local codes and coordinating Constellation's and Toledo Edison's power delivery to meet the needs of the Owens Corning headquarters. The power generated by the solar array is consumed first before Owens Corning draws from the local utility.

The construction project was done in stages to minimize disruption for those using the existing parking lot and was coordinated so that the solar array infrastructure was installed prior to the final paving stage.

In terms of other opportunities for similar solar projects in this region, Quinlivan says they exist, but Constellation would be most interested in working with clients that want the benefit of both solar power consumption and retention of the SRECs.

According to Quinlivan, Constel-lation has seen an accelerated demand for distributed solar power from customers throughout the United States concerned about the impact on the overall industry with the federal government's previous plan to drop the solar investment tax credit from 30 percent to 10 percent at the end of 2016. Some industry experts also predicted widespread industry job losses as a result. But the U.S. Congress passed a five-year extension to that tax credit at the end of 2015, which is expected to maintain the current robust pace of solar power development in the United States over the short to medium term.