What's New: Project Updates

MLK School: A Green Role Model for Cambridge
Category: Project Updates (Image: CivicSolar)
MLK School: A Green Role Model for Cambridge image
A giant science project:

The City of Cambridge has been working hard to incorporate green building into its development plans. A recent example of this effort can be seen in the rebuilding of the City’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School. In fact, the developers initially intended for the MLK School to be one of the first net zero facilities in Cambridge. To be considered net zero, the building must produce the same amount of energy as it consumes each year.

Although the MLK School’s energy budget did not allow the building to reach its net zero goal, many elements of the building’s green design will allow it to produce over half of its total energy consumption. Compared to the average elementary school, which consumes about 169 kBtu per square foot every year, the MLK School is designed to be 82% more energy efficient. This alone is an incredible accomplishment.

Energy efficiency initiatives throughout the building include the installation of 65 geothermal wells, daylight harvesting windows, an automatic lighting dimmer system, a gray water storage system and a 592 kW rooftop solar PV system. Together, the combination of these green building elements have made MLK School into, what Cambridge Days Marc Levy called, “a giant science project” for the community. Teachers plan to incorporate the building’s energy and water consumption data into their curriculum to educate the students on energy efficiency and to further encourage the City’s net zero mentality.

Working in our own backyard:

Wayne J. Griffin Electric Inc., the electrical contractor for the construction project, hired CivicSolar to provide technical and procurement support for the solar PV system to be installed on the roof and façade of the school. In March 2015, CivicSolar approached Zapotec Energy for engineering support on the PV design. The preliminary work on the design, done by CivicSolar’s own technical staff, was excellent. Zapotec joined the team to develop the mechanical, structural and electrical drawings needed for construction, as well as to commission the completed system.

Our Central Square location made it especially easy for Zapotec to team up with CivicSolar on this project. One of the best parts about being involved was working in our own backyard. Being included in the City’s effort to make its buildings more environmentally responsible is a high point for the engineers at both companies and is central to our purpose in the solar industry.

“Assisting the MLK School in reaching energy net neutrality and then having the project qualify for LEED Platinum status was a highlight of my career,” said Eric Lorenz, CivicSolar’s technical lead for the project. “Nationally, this project is a centerpiece for environmental stewardship and CivicSolar was lucky to work on it with such a skilled design team from Zapotec.”

The solar PV system was installed by Griffin Electric, headquartered in Holliston, MA. The array includes 1599 Sunpreme bifacial modules, which are high-performing solar panels that absorb direct sunlight on the front along with reflected and diffused sunlight on the back. The 592 kW PV system was interconnected to the electric grid in January 2016.

“It’s amazing to work on a design this complex, with five different mounting systems, east-west racking, and multiple roof orientations,” says Ella Willard-Schmoe, Zapotec’s lead Design Engineer. “It was a perfect application for dual-MPPT string inverters, which can compensate for that complexity very well. Working with Civic was a real pleasure, as always.”

Students and faculty have now been in the MLK School for over two months and will continue to enjoy its environmental and innovative features. 

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