With Mt. Rainier to the south and the entrance to the new 21 Acres Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living to the north, one cannot help but be awed by the roof-to-roof coverage of the 25.6kW solar energy system!  21 Acres is a non-profit organization committed to supporting sustainable, local food systems through its school, commercial kitchen and farm market with an eye on changing the conventional food system landscape. The innovative facility is designed to LEED standards targeting a platinum rating. The design incorporates numerous energy and water conservation features to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and our natural environment.

From the facility’s initial conceptualization over six years ago, the incorporation of renewable energy was never a question for 21 Acres, but rather, how large would the array need to be to offset 10% of their consumption. The initial design included both photovoltaic and solar hot water. After assessing the needs of the facility it was determined that the water usage was small, not justifiable for a solar hot water system. Instead, more PV panels were added to reach their production goal. To meet this goal, 21 Acres partnered with Sunergy Systems back in 2007 for the system design and all the way through the building’s completion last fall.

The 25.6kW solar electric system consists of 140 Day4 Energy 48MC photovoltaic modules and 4 SMA Inverters. The system incorporates sophisticated monitoring and reporting of real time data. Through funding received from a PSE Renewable Energy Education grant, students from Cascadia Community College used this data to create a digital display of both solar electricity generation and building power consumption (see live real time data). These monitoring devices make the system a great educational tool for interpreting how environmental conditions affect the system’s efficiency and performance.

Not only is 21 Acres’ solar energy system consistent with their mission for a sustainable future, it is projected to offset 16% of their consumption in the first year of operation. Partnering with an experienced solar contractor has been very beneficial for 21 Acres, as evidenced by a system that exceeds expectation. The decision to partner with Sunergy Systems was made, according to Gretchen Garth, 21 Acres Board President, because of the company’s “ . . . solid reputation and when we began to look for a conscientious partner, Sunergy Systems was and continues to be a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and committed company that could service our capacity needs.”

For more information about the 21 Acres, their innovative facility, and school offerings visit their website at www.21acres.org.

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