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Green mechanical contractor walks its talk

Aug. 28, 2019
Calling themselves the greenest firm in the DC area, Shapiro & Duncan this week has caught the attention of our diligent sustainability columnist. He's most impressed with how the third-generation firm is enthusiastically practicing what it preaches.

Many of our colleagues in the HVAC industry still do not accept the science linking human activity to changes in our planet’s climate. They approach sustainability only from an economic perspective, believing that if it doesn’t save them (or their clients) a lot of money, then there’s no point in doing it. 

Economics is, of course, an important part of the sustainability equation. In 1994, John Elkington, a British author and authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development, coined the phrase, "people, planet, and profit" to describe what is generally referred to as the triple bottom line. His premise was that sustainability has to address social needs (people), ecological solutions (planet), and financial goals (profit) in order to be successful. So I was very pleased to learn about Shapiro & Duncan, Inc.

Design. Build. Sustain.

Shapiro & Duncan is a third-generation mechanical contractor located in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. The company began in the mid-1930’s as J. Shapiro Plumbing & Heating, and has operated under its present name since 1976. In addition to using BIM and sophisticated project management and scheduling software tools to support their engineering, estimating, pre-construction, HVAC, and fabrication services, they proudly claim to be “a leader in applying green/sustainable building practices to every stage of a building’s life cycle.” The firm also boasts that is the the greenest mechanical contractor in the Washington, DC marketplace. 

Perhaps the firm's most notable achievement in sustainable development was for itself, not for an external client. Its corporate office, housing administration, engineering, construction, and customer service functions, is in Rockville, MD. Its fabrication operations are located an hour away, in a 52,000-sq-ft facility on an eight-acre site in Landover, MD. Originally running on PEPCO-distributed PJM Interconnection grid power, 30 percent of which is produced by coal-fired generating stations, that building is now solar-powered and has nearly achieved Net Zero Energy. 

Its solar PV system (above), provided by Aurora Energy, consists of 925 panels mounted on 22,000-sq-ft of its cool roof (white with a high solar reflectance index). Each panel is rated for 327 W, for a total installed capacity of 302.5 kW(DC). Based on the estimated system losses and inverter efficiency, the system is expected to produce approximately 400,000 kWh(AC) per year. Because the fabrication plant is running two shifts, and has no onsite storage batteries, it is reverse metering the excess energy during high solar radiation periods. That way, it can run on the grid at night and at other times when solar radiation is low.

According to Mark Drury, Shapiro & Duncan’s VP of Business Development, the system is expected to save the company some $45,000 the first year and – just as importantly – reduce the carbon footprint attributable to their fab shop operations. According to the EPA, their 400,000 kWh/year of solar PV, when the site-to-source ratio is considered, is equivalent to avoiding approximately 792 metric tons of CO2, or the greenhouse gas emissions saved by taking 168 cars off of the Beltway (which would, unfortunately, be barely noticeable!). Even so... well done, Mark and team. You’ve reset the bar for our industry!

A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board, the author is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability.


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Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to young leaders from across Europe in a Town Hall-styled session on April 06, 2019 in Berlin, Germany.