How the GSA's Bean Federal Center Uses Solar Power to Save on Utility Costs
While the Major General Emmett J. Bean Federal Center in Indianapolis, Ind., was not exactly the most energy efficient building when originally constructed in 1953, it is now a model for the application of green technology to existing facilities. That is, in part, because the building has undergone a large-scale installation of solar panels and a photovoltaic rooftop lab in an effort to use solar power to save on utility costs. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) owns the three-story building, which encompasses 1.6 million square feet on 73 acres. GSA undertook significant enhancements to the building as part of an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded program. The building contains federal office space and multiple data centers.
In May 2010, after the design phase was completed on the project, GSA began what is thought to be the largest rooftop solar panel array in the state of Indiana. It's a huge project, with huge potential rewards (GSA estimates saving $500,000 in utility costs per year), but the project was not without its difficulties. Given the project's publically scrutinized venue, tight timeframe, and the fact that the facility was required to remain operational throughout construction, each piece of the installation had to be coordinated carefully between GSA, the construction manager, and the contractor.
Ordered To Be More Efficient
In October 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 requiring all federal buildings to be more energy efficient. After thorough examination, the Bean Federal Center was selected for a solar technology project due to its expansive roof area — 488,000 square feet, an ideal amount of space to obtain the output GSA was looking for, based on utility consumption and energy reduction mandates. Other sustainable technologies, such as geothermal and wind power, were ruled out because various environmental factors were not ideal.
One issue was that the team decided to upgrade to a more efficient photovoltaic panel after construction had already begun. Technology is moving so rapidly that by the time construction started, the manufacturer no longer made the originally specified panel. It turned out not to be a huge problem to replace the panels, and with the increased efficiency, the team actually needed fewer panels to create the same output. In addition, crews had to make sure the panels were in the right location and layout to maximize solar generation. The total energy output for the main PV array is 2.012 MW.