GSK Starts Work on Largest Rooftop Solar Array in North America

GSK Starts Work on Largest Rooftop Solar Array in North America

GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare installs the first of 11,000 panels today for a 3-megawatt solar energy system that will become the largest roof-mounted array thus far in North America.

The installation at the GSK's Northeast Regional Distribution Center in York, Pa., is a milestone for the firm. It is the first of four planned solar projects at company facilities in the U.S. in the next four years. It is also the first array that will enable a GSK facility to rely completely on solar energy for power, company representatives said.

"This is an iconic project for us," said Larry Brown, vice president of North America supply for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare.

Brown and Mark Rhodes, the sustainability vice president for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, offered perspective on the project, whose start marks the latest phase of a renewable energy initiative that's part of GlaxoSmithKline's broader environmental sustainability efforts.On the rooftop of GSK's Northeast Regional Distribution Center in York, Pa.

The pharmaceutical firm was No. 5 in Newsweek magazine's recent annual Green Rankings of the 100 largest global companies.

With more than 90 manufacturing facilities, 20 research laboratories, a large vehicle fleet, and administrative offices and distribution centers around the world, GlaxoSmithKline has had goals for reducing its environmental footprint for several years.

The company has set energy reduction targets since the late 1990s, Rhodes said, and the GSK program to address climate change, which sets a series of environmental performance goals, has been in place since 2007.

Currently, the firm has a goal of reducing climate change impacts and energy use of operations and transport by 45 percent by 2015, compared with 2006 levels. Progress toward the target is measured in emissions and energy use per unit of sales. The company also looks at absolute reductions, which in 2009 came to an 8 percent drop in absolute energy use compared with a 2006 baseline, according to GSK's most recent corporate responsibility report.

The company's strategy, Rhodes and Brown said, includes making facilities and equipment more energy efficient, installing on-site renewable energy systems and supplementing those efforts with electricity purchased from renewable energy sources.

Among the firm's recent renewable energy projects were solar photovoltaic panel installations in Belgium and Singapore and in Pennsylvania and North Carolina in the U.S. Solar water heating systems also were installed at company facilities in Australia, Belgium and Mexico.

The project launching today in York and the three other U.S. solar installations that are to follow it will bring the company to the next level in a drive toward energy independence, according to Brown. The installations are also expected bring GSK closer to its 2015 climate change goals.

Here are some of the key stats for the installation in York:

  • The 3-MW system is expected to generate 3.4 megawatt hours of energy a year, roughly the amount used by almost 400 average-sized U.S. homes annually. The system also will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 3,000 tons a year.
  • The 11,000 PV panels are part of an array that covers 360,000 square feet (the size of seven NFL fields) and sits atop a 500,000-square-foot leased facility.
  • The panels are about 60 pounds each, more than six feet long and three feet wide, and are installed in sets of three.
  • A crew of almost 100 workers will install about 500 panels a day for American Capital Energy, the firm heading up the project. At that rate, the installation is expected to be complete in December.

The system also is projected to help the facility save some $400,000 in energy costs a year, said Brown.

Although the total cost for the array was not disclosed, the company said a $1 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Financing Authority and $4.1 million in federal tax credits will help finance the project. Energy savings and Solar Renewable Energy Credits also will contribute to offsetting costs.

News about other recent solar energy projects by major businesses is available on GreenBiz.com.

Images courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline.