On a drive to the Eastern Shore, along with the acres of corn and soy, you may observe an expansive field of glistening panels at the corner of routes 50 and 404 in Queen Anne’s County. The 98-acre site is a solar farm, built to provide solar energy 60 miles away to the East Baltimore medical campus.
The solar farm’s 43,000 panels will supply power to The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the schools of medicine, public health and nursing buildings. It will produce 13 megawatts of solar energy.
“On a hot summer day in Baltimore with all the air conditioning capacity online, we use about 65 megawatts of energy,” says Sally MacConnell, senior vice president of facilities for the Johns Hopkins Health System. The solar farm output represents about one-fifth of the campus’ overall electricity use on a day like this, she says. On a peak day, the electricity used by the 10 million square feet of space on the campus is the equivalent of what is used by 53,000 homes.
In the works for a couple of years, facilities officials pursued an opportunity to take advantage of money-saving solar energy tax credits. MacConnell, along with Anatoly Gimburg, senior director of facilities for the health system, and others negotiated a 20-year lease with SolarCity, the vendor that installed the solar panels.
Depending on the future cost of electricity, the agreement sets a baseline for the cost of electricity produced by the solar farm, which Zachary Bley, the health system’s finance manager for facilities management, says could save Johns Hopkins between $2 million and $6 million over the term of the agreement. Those savings will free up funds for other important Johns Hopkins initiatives. Just as important, the solar energy will expand Johns Hopkins’ environmental footprint, reducing our reliance on coal energy.
Currently the hospital uses natural gas for about 20 percent of its energy use, has installed numerous green roofs of chives and other plants to absorb rainwater and improve air quality, and implements other sustainability efforts.
How does solar energy work? Solar panels generate electricity using sunlight, which is fed into the electrical grid, offsetting the amount of coal-produced electricity on the grid.
With more academic medical centers across the country moving toward solar energy, MacConnell says, “We may be setting an example for hospitals in the area.”