Selby Gardens becomes world’s first net-positive-energy botanical garden complex

57,000 square feet of solar arrays make debut in late June

Solar arrays are visible atop the new parking structure at Selby Gardens downtown Sarasota campus. Photo courtesy Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

“A pinnacle solar panel ‘Power On’ moment” arrived last week at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ 15-acre, downtown Sarasota campus, the Gardens’ staff has announced.

A Flip the Switch solar panel dedication was held on Thursday, June 27, “for the organizations’ trustees, advisory committee members, donors,” and government officials, among others, a news release points out.

The activation of the solar arrays is the latest advance since the January grand opening of Phase One of Selby Gardens’ three-phase Master Plan, a $52-million expansion project, the release notes. The Master Plan has been guided by the internationally known landscape architecture studio OLIN, building architecture firm Overland Partners, civil engineering consulting firm Kimley-Horn, and the Willis Smith construction company, the release adds.

The use of the solar arrays “marks a turning point in our commitment to sustainability and innovation as leaders in ecological stewardship,” said Jennifer Rominiecki, president & CEO of Selby Gardens, in the release.

The flip of the switch “on the state-of-the-art,” 2,158-panel solar arrays, also marked the beginning of a 12-month monitoring period required for certification through the Living Building Challenge of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), the release continues. That process is expected to demonstrate that the project “produces more power than it consumes,” the release points out.

“The new facility at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens stands as a testament to sustainable, regenerative architecture, setting a benchmark for botanical gardens everywhere,” said John Byrd, associate principal and director of design performance at Overland Partners, “a firm recognized as an authority in sustainable design,” the release notes. “This landmark project elevates not only Selby Gardens, but Sarasota itself beyond a prime beach destination to a beacon of leadership in sustainable design worldwide,” Byrd added in the release.

A 50,000-square-foot solar network “atop a uniquely landscaped parking structure,” a groundbreaking restaurant, and a plant shop” forms the Morganroth Family Living Energy Access Facility (LEAF), the release explains. “This facility acts as the project’s true powerhouse, a model of green subregional infrastructure, supporting a solar array spanning more than one acre,” the release adds.

“The Elizabeth Moore Rooftop Garden and solar array located atop the Steinwachs Family Plant Research Center adds an additional 7,000 square feet of solar capacity,” the release continues. Together, “these installations provide a combined 57,000 square feet of solar infrastructure developed, engineered, and constructed by One80 Solar, supercharging Selby Gardens’ net positive energy status,” the release points out.

More solar arrays are visible atop other new structures. Photo courtesy Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

This Phase One initiative of the Selby Gardens Master Plan will produce 1.27 million kilowatt-hours per year, “enough to power 175 average American homes,” the release says. “That output is expected to exceed all the facility’s energy demands by 10%.”

Additional benefits of the one-of-a-kind solar array include the following, the release adds:

  • Savings of more than $100,000 annually in energy costs.
  • The offset of 975 tons of carbon dioxide annually, “equivalent to taking 211 cars off the road” and to the amount of carbon sequestered by 1,000 acres of protected forests in the United States.
  • Carbon-free cooking for the fully electrified restaurant at Selby Gardens.

“It’s an honor to put our expertise to work for an institution known internationally for its truly exceptional collection of rare plants already contributing to worldwide conservation,” said Patrick Attwater, CEO of One80 Solar, in the release. “This project will not only save Selby Gardens ever-rising electric costs for decades,” he added, but it also will “prevent pollution and greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere. It’s equal to the carbon sequestered by a thousand acres of forest.”

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