Cost-Savings From State Department Solar Array Hits The Roof

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a view of solar panels atop the State Department's headquarters in Washington, DC.
a view of solar panels atop the State Department's headquarters in Washington, DC. (State Department photo)

Cost-Savings From State Department Solar Array Hits The Roof

As excited as I was to start my internship at the State Department two months ago, I never expected diplomacy would involve climbing onto the roof of the Harry S. Truman building. But I learned quickly that diplomacy is more than meetings, memos, and receptions at foreign embassies. Sometimes advancing U.S. interests calls for rolling up your sleeves, rallying support to get things done, and getting out on the roof.

The State Department is one of the largest consumers of electricity in the Washington, D.C. metro area, consuming 90 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year. But on the roof of the Harry S. Truman building, a newly-installed solar panel array will help save costs. The project not only will reduce the Department’s energy spending, but installing it required zero upfront costs-- thanks to an innovative financial model with the private sector. 

Acting Special Envoy for the Bureau of Energy Resources Sue Saarnio and Senior Advisor Landon Van Dyke from the office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation recently joined a visiting French delegation for a tour of the State Department’s solar project.  The visiting French delegation comprised representatives of France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs Green Embassy team, Lucia Magnaud and Ronan Heritier, who have been working closely with the State Department’s Greening Diplomacy Initiative run by Mr. Van Dyke.  

Diplomacy on the roof. I was able to tour the solar rooftop project with Acting Special EnvoySue Saarnio, Senior Advisor Landon Van Dyke, Lucia Magnaud, manager of the French Foreign Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and Ronan Heritier, Manager of the Green Embassy Project at the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C. The tour was led by Joe Vogel, the Project Manager. (State Department photo)

Saarnio emphasized during the tour that the solar array demonstrates the Department’s commitment to leveraging U.S. innovation and technology at its facilities to save taxpayer dollars, paving the way for a cleaner and more sustainable energy future. 

So how did this solar rooftop project come to be?

The General Services Administration created a power purchase agreement whereby multiple federal agencies could pool energy demand to reduce the cost of solar panel installation.  This builds on a “bundling” concept the Department developed, exploring how to leverage bulk purchasing to access wholesale pricing for its renewable energy projects.  Bundling involves garnering enough demand from consumers and facilities to warrant access to wholesale prices for materials and make more projects financially viable. Solar wholesale prices can be up to 20 percent less than retail prices, for example. Since the overall cost of the bundled project was low, the General Service Administration’s private sector partner, WGL Energy was able to finance and install solar panels at no upfront costs to the agencies. 

In addition to making the Department more energy efficient, this solar project supports the Bureau of Energy Resources’ goal to advance opportunities for U.S. businesses in the energy sector.  It represents a terrific example of the interconnectedness of North American energy with U.S.-based solar installation company, Inman Solar, handling the assembly, installation, and operations and maintenance on the panels, which were supplied by a Canadian module manufacturer, Silfab Solar.

“Showcasing cost-effective innovative sustainability solutions at our facilities around the world is an important – and tangible - way to demonstrate U.S. policy and economic priorities,” said Van Dyke.  “It is also one avenue for us to modernize our physical and information technology infrastructure to help ensure security and operational resiliency.”

Throughout my internship with the State Department, I have had the opportunity to work on several programs that embody the commitment of creating a stronger, more sustainable future through clean energy.  I have also seen how State supports a resilient, more prosperous future for U.S. citizens and businesses around the world.  It’s been a terrific ten weeks marked by lessons and experiences I will bring back to my graduate studies at Indiana University and my future professional endeavors.  Far from the numerous meetings and memos I anticipated, my experience has been both exciting and fun.  

About the Author: Anna Hyronimus serves as a graduate intern in the Bureau of Energy Resources at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Notes: Caroline D’Angelo, an officer in the State Department’s Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation, contributed to this article.

This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.