Solar-Powered Fish at the National Aquarium


Technically, the entire world is living on energy from the sun. The National Aquarium is taking this a step further by providing approximately 40% of their electrical energy from an innovative offsite 4.3 MW solar project on the east coast of Maryland. This was made possible by two groups: OneEnergy Renewables and Constellation.

“This project with OneEnergy Renewables and Constellation really allows us to ‘walk our talk’ as a conservation organization,” said John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium. “Now, a significant percent of our electricity will come from clean, renewable energy. We hope this will help set a precedent for supporting large-scale, off-site projects and inspire others to take action.”

The Constellation solar project is estimated to reduce grid-related CO2 emissions by more than 2,500 metric tonnes annually. That’s equivalent to the emissions from 528 passenger vehicles, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.

Here’s how it works:

No one knows how high energy prices will be in the future. Proactive organizations that understand the volatility of energy costs want to lock in their energy at a fixed cost over a long period of time. OneEnergy will arrange a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for your organization, enabling it to buy a portion of its energy directly from a OneEnergy off-site solar project for a set price, over a long time period. This simple concept is beautifully illustrated in Figure 1.

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Figure 1.

This commitment not only locks in a set price for a portion of your energy supply, but also enables the financing and construction of the new solar project built specifically for your organization – hence the name of the program, Purpose-Built Solar.

In some cases, OneEnergy may even be able to arrange a PPA that will save your organization money immediately.

“To date, corporate and institutional customers have primarily adopted solar through on-site, net-metered systems,” said Bryce Smith, CEO and co-founder of OneEnergy Renewables. “With Purpose-Built Solar, organizations like the National Aquarium can now access solar power at scale and enjoy the economic benefits that only large, optimally sited projects offer. Direct engagement with grid-connected projects is redefining how large electricity customers will go solar.”

Organizations that will readily benefit from the Purpose-Built Solar program are those that use more than 15,000 MWh (15 GWh) of electricity a year, and find it challenging to put solar panels on their roofs. These organizations, like your favorite retailer, may have multiple sites. They may prefer to arrange one agreement with OneEnergy, rather than orchestrate multiple rooftop installations. Another barrier to a rooftop installation could be difficult, solar-averse landlords.

OneEnergy’s Purpose-Built Solar program is the next generation of renewable energy support. This program differs from the Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) because organizations that participate in the Purpose-Built Solar program can identify with a specific solar project. The Purpose-Built Solar program supports the development of new solar projects because it assures the developer they will be able to sell the electricity generated, helps take the risk out of the project, and facilitates funding.

OneEnergy can work with your current utility, or they can arrange a financial agreement between the electricity customer and the long-term system owner and operator. The National Aquarium is an example of the first type of arrangement. Constellation is integrating the power from the solar project developed by OneEnergy into the National Aquarium’s existing power supply arrangement.

In the second type of arrangement, if your utility does not want to be involved, your organization would keep its existing power plan with the utility and also enter into an additional agreement with the solar project owner. In this agreement, you would pay the solar project owner the difference between the PPA price and the current electrical price. When electricity prices rise higher than your PPA price, the owner would pay you the difference — in another simple concept beautifully illustrated in Figure 2. This arrangement is commonly referred to as a Virtual PPA, Synthetic PPA, or Contract for Differences.

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Figure 2.

Now, large electricity consumers, there is no excuse not to go solar.