In an agreement with Washington Gas Energy Services (WGES), a utility for the mid-Atlantic region, construction of the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) system in Washington, D.C., was completed on the campus of Catholic University of America (CUA).

The system includes 1,088 PV panels on four of the university’s buildings and will generate up to 340,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which will account for roughly 20 percent of the electricity the four buildings use. In the grand scheme of things, it is not a lot of generating capacity, but it’s a start. And along with it comes other benefits.

Catholic plans to use the PV panels to teach students about solar power. The CUA Web site, www.cua.edu, will offer real-time updates on energy production, energy use and carbon dioxide reduction. In addition, engineering and architectural students are able to watch the installation. The university said this project would lead to a solar-energy design competition sponsored by the School of Engineering, which included an alternative energy component to the curriculum this year. The engineering and architectural students also examined the new solar-power system.

Standard Solar Inc., Herndon, Va., was the contractor on the project, and it installed the 3-ft.-by-6-ft. PV panels on the roofs of four campus buildings. Standard enlisted the help of John E. Kelly & Sons Electrical Construction Inc., Upper Marlboro, Md.

Kelly & Sons performed the electrical setup and wiring that will allow direct current produced by the solar panels to be converted to alternating current, tying the solar energy system to CUA’s distribution system and adding a meter.

Kelly & Sons has recently seen a growth in solar power opportunities in the area, even going so far as to develop a team of solar power specialists. According to Steve Kelly Jr., a principal on Kelly & Sons’ solar team, the contractor has been involved in four solar power installations in the past year, including the CUA project.

“We installed the largest system in [Prince George’s] County on top of our roof in Upper Marlboro, Md.,” Kelly said. “We then did the electrical installation of a solar system in D.C. at Sousa Middle School for President Obama’s Day of Service. Because of our long relationship with working in D.C. and our new push toward green jobs, we were selected by the NREL and DOE [the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Department of Energy] to do the electrical grid installation for this year’s Solar Decathlon on the National Mall.”

The system at Catholic was installed at no cost to the university. CUA signed a 20-year power-purchase agreement with WGES to purchase the electricity the system generates at guaranteed prices. WGES retains ownership of the panels, is responsible for maintaining them, and will capture any incentives and rebates accrued.

“In simple terms, we want to save the world one solar PV system at a time, while also creating green jobs in tough economic times,” Kelly said.

Solar PV systems continue to develop a demand and a place in the electrical industry. Kelly & Sons, among others, is doing what is necessary to ensure its place in the market as it develops.