Longwood Gardens’ Bright Future

By Paul B. Redman, on

In an official flipping of a giant light switch with trustees, staff, volunteers and local dignitaries, Longwood Gardens began producing enough clean, solar electricity to provide power to the equivalent of 138 Pennsylvania homes and to reduce Longwood’s carbon dioxide emissions by 1,367 tons. We achieved this through the installation of a 1.5 megawatt solar array on more than 10 acres of Longwood property.

The solar field is the newest project in our wide-ranging environmental stewardship program at Longwood. We call our program “Soil to Sky,” meaning that rather than viewing our stewardship role with a microscope, we view it with a very wide lens to ensure that we are caring for our “global garden” that is much larger than the 1,077 acres in which we physically reside. We have been stewards of our environment through our water management practices, recycling, composting, demand-side energy reduction, and even growing produce in our very own gardens for our Terrace Restaurant. But in 2009, we increased our efforts further when we established a bold stewardship goal to reduce Longwood’s dependence upon nonrenewable energy sources and install 3 MW of solar power by 2018. Once achieved, an estimated 70% of Longwood’s annual electrical needs will be provided from solar energy, and during peak hours on sunny days Longwood can be completely removed from the utility grid!  The commissioning of our solar field today achieved 50% of our solar power goal. Find out more about our solar field on our website.

Our approach to solar electricity at Longwood is different: it’s not just a power plant, it’s a garden.  We are in the business of beauty at Longwood, and we want to create a new landscape aesthetic for solar installations around the world.  Normally, solar fields are flat and placed upon unsightly paving materials such as gravel or asphalt.  Rather than fight the beautiful rolling topography of southeastern Pennsylvania, we are committed to working with the land and experimenting with low-maintenance native plant mixes that can be established underneath the solar panels.  If the landscape experiment we are embarking upon is successful, Longwood’s solar panels will appear as though they are set within a beautiful, flowing, natural southeastern Pennsylvania meadow.  Our ultimate goal is to not only take Longwood off the grid,  but also establish a new landscape standard for future solar fields around the world. We are looking forward to sharing the results of our landscape experiment with others looking to install or update a solar field.

Longwood Gardens would have never been able to achieve this accomplishment without the help of our friends and community partners:  Governor Tom Corbett, Senator Dominic Pileggi, Representative Chris Ross, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Utility Commission Chair Rob Powelson, Kennett Township Board of Supervisors, University of Delaware Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, Think Energy, groSolar and EcogySolar. We want nothing less than for Longwood Gardens to be one of the great gardens of the world.  We would never be so audacious as to say that we are the greatest, but we strive for excellence in all that we do, including caring for our environment and tending our “global garden.”

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