SOLAR POWER MEETS STUDENT POWER. Students in Dr. Ben Luce’s Energy and Environment class spent an ordinary Sunday doing extraordinary work. They erected scaffolding, hauled material to the work site, lifted the pieces and bolted them in place using normal socket wrenches. After tests to gauge both rates of voltage and current in the modules, LSC’s new twin-array solar panels were installed. The arrays will become fully operational once the wiring is finished and connected to the grid currently scheduled for early spring semester 2012.
The project was made possible, in part, thanks to a U.S. Department of Energy grant secured by Senator Bernie Sanders. The venture is part of an on-going renewable energy research program offered through Sustainability Studies by Luce.
The arrays sit between the Alumni House and the tennis courts, a site first measured for its energy capability and then chosen for its high visibility and ease of access for both construction and subsequent visits by students.
The system consists of 24 photovoltaic modules or panels. The modules are mounted on two arrays of 12 modules apiece, each on its own support pole. The arrays are designed to remain stationary throughout the day, but will be tilted at different angles during different seasons. Luce explains, “[Tilting] helps maximize the amount of electrical energy produced because the sun stays much lower in the winter than in summer. A strong tilt in winter also helps the arrays shed snow.” Although some solar arrays have automatic self-tilting components, this system will be manually re-tilted at least twice a year.
Samantha Wolf, a student participating in the project said, “I certainly believe that LSC should and will continue to move towards appropriate renewable energy practices, particularly solar. It certainly shows prospective students what we can do here and how seriously we take our carbon footprint.”
The system will produce up to 5KW of DC power daily. An ‘inverter’ converts the power to AC and synchronizes this AC power with the electric power grid fed directly into the Alumni House. “It’s important to keep in mind that this is a home -scale project,” Luce adds,” The purpose is to power the Alumni House or something of its scale and to give students experience.”
There are environmental and economic advantages to this ‘grid-tied’ system according to Luce, “The advantages to this system over an ‘off-the-grid’ system are two-fold. First, all the solar power gets used whereas off-grid systems often waste any extra power after the batteries are charged.” Luce adds that, “no batteries are required” making it both “cheaper and environmentally friendly.”
Bernie Sanders commented, “I am very proud to have worked with Lyndon State College to fund the installation of solar panels on campus. This project is one more step to move Vermont to sustainable energy, and will give students and professors at the College a unique opportunity to incorporate solar energy into the curriculum.”
Dr. Luce and his students will study the performance of the system in detail including energy production and how well the system sheds snow. Luce hopes to install a webcam mounted near the array to help record data. “We could use it to check on the array hourly. The results would be interesting, especially on a windy day.”
The possibility of a larger scale rooftop installation at LSC is being explored. Luce points out “The cost of solar energy is declining rapidly and is expected to be close to retail costs by 2015.”
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