Case Study: San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center Solar Project

Background

Built in the 1970s, the San Diego Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center administers physical, mental and social treatment to military veterans. Notably, the center hosts one of the largest national research programs in Veterans Affairs in addition to training students from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. 

The Veterans Affairs agency is mandated by a presidential executive order to reduce building energy intensity and increase renewable energy generation at government facilities and guided by the VA Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan that directs VA centers to “minimize our environmental and energy-related impacts.”

To help achieve energy goals, the center has installed a combined heat and power generating system, a solar reflective cool roof and a photovoltaic (PV) system to offset its considerable energy load that varies from approximately 1.3 to 4 megawatt-hours monthly. Installed in 2012, the PV system generates between 20,000 kWh and 35,000 kWh per month and every kWh counts, according to VA Energy Engineer Jon Coger. He said the center would like to add more solar PV to optimally manage its net energy needs, but there is limited surface space available now to support additional solar and limited funding.

Funding

As a government agency, the San Diego VA Medical Center’s solar project was funded by federal tax dollars, however, it qualified for a California Solar Initiative rebate that covered approximately 22 percent of total system costs. Several federal policies and agencies were involved in evaluating and overseeing the expenditure to ensure the center’s solar system was technically and fiscally sound.

Impact

The center’s PV system furthers the VA’s goals and federal objectives to reduce traditional energy consumption and mitigate the related environmental impacts. It helps offset electric energy bills that often exceed $100,000 per month and will reduce an estimated 1,163 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in its lifetime by offsetting electric utility energy sources.