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How Solar Meets LEED Certification Requirements

Updated: Jun 4

LEED certification

Buildings are responsible for almost 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. Thus, some companies and organizations are investing in green buildings to differentiate themselves and lower operating costs. Installing an on-site solar system is an excellent way to show a commitment to clean energy while earning points toward LEED certification requirements.

There are now more than 105,000 LEED-certified projects in over 180 countries and on every continent except for Antarctica. Some of the projects include over 250 airports, 680,000 residential units, and several of the tallest buildings in the world. Iconic LEED projects include the Willis Tower in Chicago (LEED Gold), TAIPEI 101 in Taipei, Taiwan (LEED Platinum), the Empire State Building in New York City (LEED Gold), and the Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, China (LEED Platinum).

As a clean energy professional, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of how this popular green building certification works, what building types are eligible, and the role that solar energy can play in the LEED certification process. Working with other green building professionals, like architects, engineers, builders, and building owners, also creates an excellent marketing opportunity that can help your company grow.

What is LEED Certification?

leed certification requirements

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most common green building certification program in the world, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This certification is available for almost all types of buildings and offers a framework for resource-efficient, healthy buildings with lower operating costs and better indoor environmental quality.

LEED standards were first devised in 1994, and the USGBC has since augmented and updated it. Currently, LEED v4 is in use, and a draft of LEED v5 is being developed.

The five main categories for LEED project types are:

  • Building Design and Construction (BD+C)

  • Interior Design and Construction

  • Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M)

  • Neighborhood Development

  • Homes

To meet LEED certification requirements, projects must meet certain prerequisites plus earn points and pay certification fees. This green building standard takes a holistic approach and doesn’t focus on just one aspect of sustainable design. Projects can earn points for a low carbon footprint, water and energy efficiency, waste reduction, transportation, sustainable materials, human health, and indoor air quality. Points are awarded in different categories for meeting specific criteria.

Green buildings qualify for different levels of certification depending on the number of points they earn.

  • Platinum: 80+ points

  • Gold: 60 to 79 points

  • Silver: 50 to 59

  • Certified: 40 to 49

LEED Certification Requirements

LEED credits for new construction fall into various categories that address sustainability topics, including reducing energy use, accessibility to public transportation, and the embodied energy associated with construction materials. Some other considerations include:

  • Energy and atmosphere: These elements can directly reduce energy use or address systems that rely on low-carbon energy sources. It also recognizes the use of renewable energy, including the procurement of off-site renewable power.

  • Location and transportation: This category encourages new buildings to improve land-use patterns and encourage occupants to use public transportation instead of single-passenger vehicles.

  • Materials and resources: These address the building's embodied carbon in the materials and products used throughout the life cycle of the building by examining their extraction, transportation, manufacturing, distribution, and end-of-life disposal.

  • Water efficiency: These credits address water conservation and ways to reduce the use of potable water, such as using nonpotable water sources. Reducing water use also mitigates greenhouse gas emissions because it indirectly reduces the water use associated with transporting and treating water.

  • Sustainable sites: This category addresses the nonenergy-related drivers of climate change. Sustainable solutions relate to land use, mitigating the heat island effect, and diligent building location and siting.

By contrast, LEED Operations and Maintenance (O+M) is for existing buildings and interiors. Therefore, it focuses on the project's operations and maintenance. The building must have been in use for at least one year, and the project may or may not be undergoing improvements and renovation work. Therefore, LEED points are based on performance.

Using Solar to Meet LEED Certification Requirements

Solar installations can significantly contribute to achieving LEED certification by addressing multiple credit categories within the LEED rating system. Here’s how solar installations help meet LEED certification requirements:

1. Energy and Atmosphere (EA)

- Optimize Energy Performance (EA Credit): Solar installations generate renewable energy on-site, reducing the building’s reliance on non-renewable energy sources and improving overall energy efficiency. This directly contributes to points towards LEED certification requirements under the Optimize Energy Performance credit by lowering the building’s energy consumption and increasing its energy performance score.

- Renewable Energy Production (EA Credit)**: Installing solar panels helps meet the requirements for the Renewable Energy Production credit. LEED awards points based on the percentage of the building’s energy consumption offset by on-site renewable energy systems like solar photovoltaics (PV). The more energy produced by the solar system, the more points can be earned in this category.

2. Sustainable Sites (SS)

- Heat Island Reduction (SS Credit): Solar panels can contribute to heat island reduction strategies. By providing shade and reflecting less heat compared to conventional roofing materials, solar installations help reduce the heat island effect, which can earn points under the Sustainable Sites category.

3. Innovation (IN)

- Innovation in Design (IN Credit): Creative and exceptional use of solar technology can qualify for Innovation points. This could include integrating solar panels into building materials, such as solar shingles, or using solar energy to power innovative building systems and technologies.

4. Location and Transportation (LT)

- Reduced Parking Footprint (LT Credit): While this is less direct, solar carports or canopies in parking areas can contribute to reducing the parking footprint and earning points in this category. These structures provide shaded parking, reducing heat gain and often incorporating EV charging stations powered by solar energy.

5. Materials and Resources (MR)

- Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction (MR Credit): Using solar panels can reduce the environmental impacts associated with building operations over the life cycle. By generating clean, renewable energy, buildings can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, thus lowering their carbon footprint and contributing to life-cycle impact reduction credits.

Benefits Of Meeting LEED Certification Requirements

Many corporations and cities are working toward greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, and sustainable buildings are an excellent way to reduce the climate impact of operating buildings. LEED certification is a tangible way to distinguish climate-friendly buildings and is especially appealing for companies, organizations, and cities with zero emissions targets.

LEED-certified projects tend to be more economical to operate because they have lower energy and water bills and prioritize human health and occupant comfort. Likewise, LEED buildings may attract tenants seeking green residences, offices, and retail spaces.

Meeting LEED certification requirements is also helpful from a marketing perspective. Many organizations use information about LEED buildings in marketing materials and may even receive media coverage. Some organizations also offer tours of their LEED buildings, highlighting some of the sustainable features.

leed certification requirements

LEED For Solar Installations

The U.S. Green Building Council offers accreditation for professionals to demonstrate that they have knowledge of the LEED rating system. As a solar energy installer, this can be a way to distinguish yourself from other solar companies, especially if you are seeking clients working on LEED projects.

Obtaining LEED credentials is a way to advance your career and requires passing a written exam and paying a fee. Prior experience working on a LEED-certified project is recommended but not required. The LEED exams are available at testing sites or at home with a remote proctored online test. You must receive a minimum score of 170 out of 200 to pass.

  • LEED Green Associate: These professionals demonstrate core competency by passing an exam that measures general knowledge of green building concepts. This knowledge helps support others working on LEED-certified projects and is ideal for professionals new to green building.

  • LEED Accredited Professional (AP) with Specialty: This advanced professional credential signifies expertise in green building and an understanding of the LEED green building rating system. To become a LEED AP with a specialty, candidates must first pass the LEED Green Associate exam.

Specialties include Building Design + Construction, Operations + Maintenance, Interior Design + Construction, Neighborhood Development, and Homes. The LEED AP with Specialty accreditation is ideal for individuals working on green building and LEED projects.

As a LEED professional, you must also take steps to maintain your credentials with continuing education hours within two years of earning your credentials.

Building Sustainably Benefits Clients, Installers, And The Earth

LEED is the most popular green building certification, and familiarity with it can help installers when working with clients seeking certification. If you want to really demonstrate knowledge of this certification program, consider becoming a LEED Green Associate or LEED AP. Working on LEED-certified projects is also an excellent networking opportunity, and a way to generate leads quality solar leads.

Are you working on a LEED-certified project? Partner with GreenLancer to help promote project success! We can assist with anything from conducting a solar site survey to obtaining engineering wet stamps.


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