Working in the communications office at the Department of Energy, I’m always researching, writing, and talking about our latest initiatives. Topics run the gamut—from student-led solar competitions to engineering breakthroughs in electric vehicle design. I’ve learned that there are so many interesting projects underway in the clean energy space.

Rooftop with solar panels at Arlington County Central Library

New solar panels on the roof of Arlington County Central Library. Credit: Arlington County Central Library

Still, writing about an innovative, clean energy project in a state 1,000 miles away is one thing—discovering such a project in your own neighborhood is quite another.

That’s exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago when I walked into my local library. A sign, just inside the hallway announced a new construction project—250 solar panels are being installed on the library’s flat, wide roof. This project is completely funded by the Department’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program (part of the Recovery Act initiative).

Intrigued of course, I looked into it a bit more and was pleasantly surprised to find that the library has undergone several, gradual energy-saving upgrades.

In fact the retrofits have gone on for the past decade—ramping up significantly in 2007 as part of the Fresh AIRE (Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions) program.

This particular library is quite large (over 130,000 sq ft)—still, the retrofits made are simple, and can be adapted and applied to a space of any size, including:

Pretty straightforward sure, but the impact has been great—from 2000-2010 electricity consumption at the library has dropped over 38%. The improvements made since 2007 cost $118,269 to implement and are saving over $57,000 per year in electricity costs—a payback of just over two years. Arlington County expects to save an addition $14,000 per year with the addition of the rooftop solar panels. The solar project is expected to be completed this month.

Erin Pierce is a Communications Specialist in the Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy