The first solar array project to be installed in the Commonwealth under a new PPA pilot program will begin construction this week at the University of Richmond.

The system is being installed at the university through a solar power purchase agreement (PPA) with Secure Futures, a Staunton, Va.,-based solar developer. In 2013 the Virginia General Assembly enacted legislation creating a PPA pilot program in Dominion Virginia Power service territory.  

The 205-kilowatt photovoltaic solar array will be installed on the roof of the LEED-Gold certified Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness. The 749 panels will cover about 22,000 square feet of the rooftop. Seventy-six percent of the panels will be bifacial, allowing them to collect direct solar energy from the front and ambient energy from the back.

According to Secure Futures and project co-owner SolarWorld, this is the first commercial application of SolarWorld’s Bisun panels in the Americas. These bifacial modules are capable of increasing energy yield by as much as 25 percent.

Once complete the array will allow the university to generate more than 237,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, potentially offsetting the emission of more than 364,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. That is equivalent to the average annual electricity use of 22 American homes, or the annual electricity needs for one campus residence hall.

A PPA is a critical financial instrument for solar energy development. UR has partnered with developer Secure Futures, which will install, maintain and own the solar array. Secure Futures also will sell the electricity generated by the array to the university at a set rate over a 20-year period.

"Not only does this project help the university address its significant commitment to environmental sustainability, our agreement with Secure Futures should allow us to reduce our utility expenses,” said David Hale, vice president for business and finance at the University of Richmond.

"The University of Richmond solar project represents a highly visibly landmark for solar energy in Virginia, achieving new technical and policy breakthroughs for advancing clean energy in the Commonwealth,” said Anthony Smith, CEO of Secure Futures. “We are proud to partner with global leaders in SolarWorld and the University of Richmond to make this project a success.”

The panels are slated to be completely installed by mid-April. “This array represents a dramatic step toward achieving a clean energy future,” said Rob Andrejewski, director of sustainability for UR. The university is striving to achieve a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, and complete carbon neutrality by 2050.

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