Along with other sustainable technologies, the solar industry is growing at a rapid rate. With growing demand for solar panels and technological advancements that make harvesting solar power even more feasible, solar power can be an efficient way to boost a structure’s sustainability – and help secure a LEED certification.
Understanding LEED Certifications
While many are familiar with LEED certification in general, few understand the methodology behind the title. A building can actually pass LEED requirements in a variety of ways. There are four separate LEED ratings, and each rating requires a different number of points. The point breakdown for the most recent LEED program version (v4) is as follows:
- 40–49 points – LEED Certified
- 50–59 points – LEED Silver
- 60–79 points – LEED Gold
- 80+ points – LEED Platinum
Points are achieved by meeting select criteria based on the scope and type of structure being built. Different structures have different point opportunities, but all points fall into one of the following categories:
- Location and Transportation: What will commuters’ carbon footprint be traveling to and from this location?
- Sustainable Sites: Are natural habitats preserved? How much open space is available? Is there an opportunity to reduce light pollution?
- Water Usage Efficiency: Are there methods in place to reduce water usage?
- Energy and Atmosphere: Is the building’s energy performance optimized? Does the energy used come from sustainable sources? Is there an on-site source of energy?
- Materials and Resources: Are the materials used in the project eco-friendly? Do they come from local sources? What storage and waste disposal techniques will be used?
- Indoor Environmental Quality: Does the air quality performance conform to minimum standards? Are low-emitting materials used? Will tenants have quality views of the environment and ample access to daylight?
- Innovation: Have LEED accredited individuals been used in the building process? Are any of the building’s design elements particularly unique or smart?
- Regional Priority: Does the building address any region-specific environmental issues?
How Solar Can Help with LEED Certification
While it is possible to construct a LEED-certified building without the help of solar power, proper solar applications can help a new building earn additional points.
Here are a few main ways solar can help structures meet LEED qualifications.
- Heat Island Reduction
Heat island effects occur when areas experience increased temperatures as a result of structures or manmade developments. Asphalt-paved parking areas, for instance, absorb and hold heat, driving temperatures up and potentially harming local wildlife. New construction projects following the Building Design and Construction specialization can receive up to two points for reducing the heat island effects by building renewable energy systems – including solar arrays – to shade to high heat areas.
- Efficient Water Heating
Homes can receive up to three points for installing high-efficiency water heaters. Though there are a few different types of water heaters that can provide these points, a solar water heater that provides more than 60% of a home’s annual domestic hot water can earn tenants the maximum number of allotted points in this category.
- Renewable Energy
Solar’s most popular application, renewable energy production, has the potential to generate a wide range of points depending on the percent of a building’s energy use supplied by a renewable source, like solar. On select structures, for example, if 1% of a structure’s annual energy generation comes from solar, including that generated by traditional arrays and solar roof tiles, the structure qualifies for one point.
- Solar Orientation
On a neighborhood planning scale, a project can earn up to one point for optimizing alignment for solar efficiency. This means that buildings should be arranged with their longest sides aligned within 15 degrees of the east-west axis, where they’ll be able to receive a maximum amount of sunlight for rooftop solar arrays.
- Active Solar Design
Homes that don’t receive points for solar water heaters or renewable energy can receive up to one point for having a solar-ready design that will allow for easy installation of a PV array or solar water heater in the future.
The benefits that come from using solar technology are vast, and they line up well with the fundamental goals of LEED certification. Both encourage better air quality, less reliance on non-renewable energy sources, decreased carbon emissions, and more sustainability overall. With goals that line up so well, it stands to reason that solar can – and should – be a vital part of the LEED certification process.
Find more in-depth reports and studies at Solar Power Authority!
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