Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Educational tool as well
August 10, 2018

After two years of planning and fundraising, it has taken just two days to construct Culver Academies’ first three racks of solar panels. Each rack, known as an array, holds 32 panels, Sustainability Director Chris Kline ’82 explained. And, while they have been installed, they still need to be connected to the campus power station before they are operational.

The 96 panels will generate enough power to run two homes, he said, which should be enough electricity to operate the Naval Building and Beason Hall. Still, “it is a drop in the bucket” when it comes to the Academies’ overall electrical use. The 24-kilowatts generated still represents less than one percent of the overall campus usage.

But this first phase of the solar project will provide more value as a learning tool for both students and school officials. Located in the well field across from the Sgt. Hudson Pasture on State Road 10, the solar panels will provide data that students and school officials can review to learn how to operate a larger system more efficiently. The panels were purchased with $60,000 raised through a crowd-funding campaign.

The necessary cable work is to be completed and the panels operational by Sept. 1. Each panel is outfitted with a micro-inverter, which converts the direct current generated into alternating current. It will also provide the operational data for each panel. Since the panels can be tilted and locked into a variety of different angles, Kline said students will be able to look at the individual data for each panel and determine the best angle for different times of the year.

Along with his new class, Honors in Sustainability, Kline said the science and engineering classes will be studying the data. Economics classes may want to determine the payback period on the panels by looking at the numbers. Culver Summer Schools & Camps classes will also use the panels and data for different projects. And, he added, plans also call for the well field to be planted in native flowers and grasses for another pollinator prairie, which add to the student research value.

Kline credited several recently graduated students with carrying the solar project torch since it was originally discussed. Nate Cripe ’17 (Bremen, Ind.) did most of the initial work. Elena Prieto ’18 (Culver) used the solar panels as her senior service project and worked with the Development department on the crowd-funding program. George Cruickshank ’18 (Anchorage, Alaska) and Yutao Li (Hangzhou, China) also assisted on the project.

Facilities Director Jeff Kutch and Assistant Director Darryl Garbacik, Controller Rick Tompos, the Alumni Sustainability Committee, and the Development staff have also backed the project, he said. Selecting Ag Technologies from nearby Rochester as the contractor also made the process smoother. The company’s knowledge of local regulations, state laws, and past work with area utilities has been extremely helpful.

Future plans call for the solar field to be expanded to a two-megawatt system, followed by a third phase that would see it grow into a “micro-grid,” he said. For now, though, he is hoping everyone enjoys this important first step and learns from the current system.

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