The University of Findlay recently installed solar panels and a wind turbine to provide power to two student houses on West Foulke Avenue.
Last fall, the University received grants from both the BP Foundation and Dominion Resources to help retrofit two University-owned houses with renewable energy and monitoring equipment. In June, solar power was grid tied to 138 W. Foulke Ave., and wind power was grid tied to 146 W. Foulke Ave. A grid tie, by definition, is an electrical system that is connected to a utility distribution grid. In this case, solar power and wind power are connected to a local electrical grid. Power will be generated for each house, and excess power will be returned to the grid.
The new power systems were installed in an open lot east of 138 W. Foulke Ave. Students, with guidance from Tim Murphy, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental, safety and occupational health management, assisted with preparing the site and installing the solar panels and wind turbine. They also installed a fence around the site.
Dan Klear of Superior Energy Solutions LLC, a company based in Ottawa, was on site to oversee the installation of the wind turbine, which stands approximately 45 feet tall. Each of its three fiberglass composite blades spans six feet.
The wind turbine is considered to be maintenance free, requiring only a visual inspection from the ground once each year, and it can be completed by a homeowner (or in this case, a student, faculty or staff member). The company suggests replacing the blades and turbine after approximately 20 years; the galvanized steel pole will not need replaced. According to Klear, the wind turbine is expected to generate approximately 300 kilowatt hours per month.
Jonathan Clemens of Olympic Energy Systems in Washington state oversaw the installation of the solar panels. Though typically mounted on rooftops, the University’s system was set up using a tension cable system on the ground. Each of the 12 tempered glass panels measures approximately 31 by 62 inches and weighs approximately 40 pounds. It is anticipated that the solar panels will generate approximately 250 kilowatt hours per month. The panels carry an industry-standard 25-year replacement warranty. According to Klear and Clemens, the systems operate at peak performance during different times of the year. The solar panels generate the most electricity during spring and summer, while the wind turbine generates the most electricity during fall and winter. The differences are due to temperature changes, which affect both sun exposure and wind speed.
To power each house, the systems are connected to inverters, which convert DC (direct current) energy into AC (alternating current) energy, making it usable power for the homes. The University worked with American Electric Power to tie the new power systems to the grid. AEP granted UF a permit to interconnect, which allowed the University to begin construction. After construction was complete, AEP inspected the site, installed a reversible electric meter (which turns backward when excess power is returned to the grid) and gave permission to turn the new system on. Safety mechanisms are built into both energy inverters and on/off switches on the houses. If something goes wrong with the solar panels or wind turbine, the inverter likely will be triggered to turn off, or if the inverter stops converting energy into AC power, it also will turn off. The on/off switches allow for a manual shut-off, which would be used if maintenance work is being completed that requires power to be shut down.
The houses are the focal points of an ongoing campus project to reduce energy consumption. With four students in one house and five in the other, both groups are developing and implementing ways to save energy and create less waste. Monitoring instruments were installed during the summer of 2011 to measure water, electrical and natural gas use.