A UN office in Slovakia became a real powerhouse of renewable energy when its solar system of 170 photovoltaic (pv) panels went live in October 2009.
In a proactive sustainability initiative that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is keen to see emulated elsewhere, the organization's Bratislava Regional Centre (BRC) now feeds enough green renewable electricity into the grid to meet the needs of 11 average Slovak households. Its rooftop pv is the latest and most dramatic in a series of steps stretching back over a six year period to reduce the office's environmental impact.
During that time windows have been replaced, lights switched over to more energy-efficient technology, and a raft of office policies introduced, from recycling to turning off computers every evening, to reduce consumption of water, electricity, heating and paper – and raise staff awareness of the benefits of good green practice.
The BRC wants to share this awareness more widely, too. The public can even monitor the performance of its solar panels over the internet. There's a real time display at http://solarpanel.undp.sk/html/en/index.html showing the current and cumulative carbon dioxide savings as well as the cash value of the electricity they are generating. For other UN offices interested in similar initiatives the BRC is happy to share detailed documentation on the characteristics of the panels it chose, the batteries and other ancillary equipment, the installation manual and the supplier's contract and terms of reference. For more information, click here or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The solar power project cost 50,000 Euros, required nine licenses for approval, and took four months to implement.
The UNDP earns 45 cents per kilowatt hour for the 'green power' the panels generate, thanks to the Slovak feed-in tariff for solar electricity entering the grid. With an expected annual output of 10700 kWh, this translates into a saving of roughly 5,000 Euros on the BRC's electricity bill. At that rate the installation should pay for itself within 10 years, as well as delivering a big reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Other measures at the BRC have resulted in a 6% reduction in electricity consumption, a 1.7% saving on water and a 5% cut in paper usage from 2008 to 2009, with recycled paper now the norm.
To date, the solar panel station has generated 10 MWh (10,000 kilowatts) of power, generated income - 4,500 Euros and saved 5.5 tons of carbon emissions.
Every bit as significant as these direct benefits and cost savings are the more intangible benefits, in particular:
• creating a UN showcase sustainability project
• improving staff awareness and motivation on good environmental practice
• providing an example that other local and international institutions can follow
BRC Director Jens Wandel gives particular emphasis to this exemplar role. His organization's initiative, financed from own resources with corporate support, is one that he sees as “the next step in what I hope will be a series of renewable energy efforts throughout the worldwide network of UNDP offices and UN houses”.