Solar panels to be installed on Parkland building
The power of the sun is to be harnessed by the Parkhill Applied Technology Center with the installation of a solar panel array on the roof in November.
The array will provide a source of renewable energy to the power-intensive T building, complementing but not entirely supplanting its necessary input from the public electricity grid.
Half the cost of installation is to be paid by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, and additional funding for the project came from the nonprofit Individual Development and Educational Assessment in the form of grants.
Thor Peterson, sustainability coordinator at Parkland, says that given the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation grant, and electricity prices stay the same, “the system should pay for itself in about 10 years.”
“If electricity prices increase, which is a very likely scenario, the payback time will be even shorter,” Petersen says. “Given that systems like these easily last 20 years, [and] systems installed in the 1970s are still functioning today, Parkland should be receiving environmental and financial benefits from this system for decades into the future.”
Solar panels produce energy through the photovoltaic effect, which as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s website describes is a phenomenon through which an electric current is generated by an object simply through its exposure to light. Space programs are prolific users of solar energy, as it is a clean and reliable source of power that requires no highly-explosive fuel or dangerously-radioactive nuclear generators. It does, of course, require a powerful light source, which may not be available if a spacecraft is hidden from the sun by another object.
It goes without saying the same applies to solar panels on earth; if it is nighttime or very cloudy, their effectiveness drops to nil.
Using this photovoltaic effect, the panels will produce at most about 25 kilowatts of power.
“The proposed system consists of 72 panels rated at 345 watts apiece,” he said. “A kilowatt is 1,000 watts, and is a measure of energy passing through the system at a point in time, or the potential energy production rate of a device.”
To measure the amount of power a device is using over a given period of time, the unit of kilowatt hours, or kWh, is used. This unit is simply the amount of kilowatts running through a system multiplied by the number of hours it is running. This is how electricity companies figure up how much to charge a customer..
Petersen gives the example of a “100-watt lightbulb that’s consumes 100 watts of energy when it is turned on. If it is operated for an hour, it has consumed 100 watt-hours of electricity. If it is operated for 10 hours, it has consumed one kilowatt hour of electricity.”
The average American household in 2014 used 911 kWh per month, or 10,932 kWh for that year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The Illinois average was slightly less at 745 kWh per month and the average Illinoisan consumer saw a monthly bill of around $89, sitting below the national average cost of $114.
Petersen says that Parkland College calculated the array would generate 36,716 kilowatt hours each year.
Jim Bustard, director of Parkland’s Physical Plant, says the solar panels are bolted to specially designed frames that are sitting on top of the roof. The frames are ballasted in place so that high winds do not disrupt the orientation of the panels.
The array is the brainchild of Gregory Walburg, a construction management instructor.
In 2014, Walburg organized the installation of the 45 kW solar panel array on the roof of the Tony Noel Agricultural Technology Applications Center. In the future, he hopes that Parkland will build an array for the main campus, as well.
The panels will also have educational benefits for the Applied Technology Center.
“[The array] will have advanced energy data tracking and display capabilities, with an online dashboard that will allow users to drill into the real time, minute-by-minute energy production of individual solar panels within the array,” Petersen says.
Walburg says students can study the different amounts of solar energy that can be generated in different seasons. He’s also hoping students will learn about solar energy and sustainably in general from the photovoltaic array.