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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Continues Sustainability

Written by: Leonard Parker | solar news | March 25, 2021

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is one of the world’s leading climate change research and education institutions, and in the past few years they’ve taken huge steps to reduce their own carbon footprint.

In 2018 ReVision installed 517 solar panels for WHOI at the Fye and McLean research facilities, and this past fall completed Phase 2 of the solar project with rooftop arrays on Clark Tower and Clark South. Combined, these arrays produce over 263,000 kilowatt-hours of clean energy annually, and offset over 270,000 pounds of carbon.

WHOI’s Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Madsen is excited about the progress. “The response to the solar panels has been super positive both in terms of messaging and finance. The panels are highly visible on Fye Lab and offer evidence to our staff and visitors that we care about reducing carbon emissions by supporting renewable energy. In terms of the financial aspects, we are saving thousands of dollars!”

WHOI is known for its ocean research expertise, and including the world-famous human-occupied submersible Alvin which has taken scientists to the ocean floor since 1964, but the on-shore laboratory research programs are just as impressive. ReVision’s own Heather Deese, a Commercial Solar Developer out of our Liberty office, is a graduate of the WHOI/MIT joint program in physical oceanography. During her time in Woods Hole she worked on both off and on-shore research, and remembers the difficulties in studying climate change in such a carbon-intensive space.

“There was an inherent contradiction in the experience of doing climate science but having the lab facilities and offshore vessels be powered by fossil fuels. That created personal conflict. For decades there have been people dedicating their lives to studying the impacts of climate change, and many of those operations were functioning in ways that were fundamentally contributing to the problem.”

Ironically Heather did the bulk of her research completely in the dark in a lab that used a giant rotating tank of water that mimicked ocean currents and producing laser images of the circulation patterns. Clark Tower has labs comprised of four different types of scientists, a variety of instruments, and a huge conference room on the top floor. It’s a very energy-intensive building, but that conference room, where WHOI hosts groups from across the world and holds their board meetings, now looks out upon the solar panels of Clark South. Both Clark and Clark South’s roofs are now covered in solar panels, and Clark South is gaining most of its energy from the solar.

In addition to its commitment to solar, WHOI is retrofitting its buildings with LED lighting, thanks to Cape Light Compact and Wicked Watts, a women-owned business out of Waltham. You can now drive on sunshine at WHOI; 8 EV charging stations are currently in place, with a goal of expanding to 15 with the help of Eversource’s EV Make Ready Program. And finally, WHOI is researching an energy management plan for the entire institution to reduce overall energy usage, decrease carbon emissions, track the performance of energy efficiency, increase the proportion of energy from renewable sources, and increase sustainable development of the institution.

Heather Deese, Commercial Solar Developer and graduate of the WHOI/MIT joint program

After graduating from the WHOI/MIT joint program, Heather spent two decades working with fishermen and others who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. She became deeply disturbed by the destruction caused by climate change and developed a passion for expanding clean, renewable energy. She wanted to be doing community scale work with solar in Maine, and was thrilled to start with ReVision Energy this fall, addressing the root causes of climate change.

“It’s very comforting to know that WHOI has made such a full move to make their operations sustainable,” said Heather, “It is fantastic that they’re doing not just solar but including that in the context of greater sustainability work. It’s great to see WHOI walking the talk.”