Commissioning Distributed Energy Resources for United Therapeutics
United Therapeutics is biotechnology company co-headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina, that develops novel life-extending technologies for lung disease and organ manufacturing.
Along with its commitment to its patients and their families, United Therapeutics has long emphasized environmental sustainability and decarbonization in its business operations. The company got its start with renewable energy back in 2003, when it installed a 92-kilowatt (kW) solar array at its first manufacturing facility in Silver Spring. Since then, all new construction properties have incorporated sustainability, pushing the envelope of what’s possible in pharmaceutical engineering. United Therapeutics currently has a portfolio of net-zero and LEED-certified buildings.
Independent Renewable Energy Third-Party Commissioning
Advanced Energy’s involvement with United Therapeutics began in 2014, after the company decided to add a 4-megawatt (MW) solar field — its largest — to its RTP campus. Our role was to serve as a third-party commissioning agent, making sure the solar developer built what it agreed to build, such that the installation met United Therapeutics’ specifications and intent as well as all applicable code requirements.
“Advanced Energy was a partner who looked at solar and knew the mechanism to get it approved and knew what the nuances and mistakes were…we needed somebody who understood and did this for their living,” said Avi Halpert, vice president of corporate real estate at United Therapeutics.
The goal of all of our commissioning projects is to ensure that distributed energy resource systems are installed to quality standards, provide optimal performance, and can be maintained for safe and reliable operation for their life spans. Broadly, this entails the following:
- Reviewing design drawings, specifications and submittals prior to system construction
- Conducting periodic on-site inspections of the quality of the installation during construction
- Reviewing detailed commissioning test procedures and documentation from the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractor
- Reviewing EPC contractor commissioning test results and documentation for quality, accuracy and completeness
- Conducting a post-construction inspection to ensure the as-built system complies with relevant codes and standards and optimal design and installation practices
- Working with the EPC contractor to resolve any deficiencies in project installation and commissioning
- Providing a detailed final report documenting all commissioning activities
“The importance of getting that third-party commissioning and design assist people on early, it makes the design better upfront, it makes the construction go smoother and it absolutely makes the turnover at the end of the day much more successful,” said Andy Campbell, senior manager of corporate real estate at United Therapeutics.
Beginning in 2015, we had the opportunity to commission and conduct a solar design review of the United Therapeutics Unisphere in Silver Spring — the largest commercial site net-zero-energy office building in the U.S. Every component of the 135,000-square-foot building was designed with energy conservation in mind, and among its many energy-saving features is a 1-MW solar array consisting of nearly 3,000 solar panels. These panels cover the roof, south facade and parking deck of the facility.
As we did with the RTP solar farm, we reviewed and provided comments on the solar project design to assess system compliance with relevant codes, its general adequacy to meet expected performance and reliability, and its completeness. We also identified any significant departures from normal industry practice.
Most recently, our team commissioned Lightyear, United Therapeutics’ net-zero-energy operational facility in RTP. “Having [Advanced Energy] online from an early point in the project to help guide that design, make sure that we’re making good decisions, make sure that construction’s going the way it should be means that when we get ready to flip the switch at the end of a project, it’s going to turn on,” said Campbell.
The 55,000-square-foot building has no diesel, natural gas or propane generators. It generates energy from a 437.5-kW AC rooftop solar array — that covers almost the entire roof — two Tesla Megapack batteries, each providing 3.1 megawatt-hours and 770 kW of capacity, and a microgrid controller. The on-site generation at Lightyear will be able to match all of the facility’s energy needs over a year and provide backup power in the event of an outage.
We’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with United Therapeutics for the past decade and applaud the company for its devotion to pushing the boundaries of clean energy and sustainability.
With more businesses considering renewable energy, we can use our expertise and decades of experience to help anywhere in the process, starting at the design phase through full system commissioning. We’ll make sure your project meets your needs and provides safe and reliable operation. Learn more at https://www.advancedenergy.org/renewables-planning/.