Alfred State College Installs PV Panels to Power Applied Technology Buildings

photovoltaic system installAlfred State College is leading the way in sustainable energy use with its new 5100 watt (5.1 kW) photovoltaic grid intertie system, which is now powering the library and administration building of the School of Applied Technology in Wellsville. Since the system mimics one a homeowner would use, these buildings were chosen because they best represent a residential home in terms of a year's electrical usage.

Says Craig Clark, dean of the Alfred State School of Applied Technology, "We have been developing expertise in renewable energy since 2002, and the faculty has really taken this to the next level. Students expect the opportunity to work on the latest renewable energy equipment and the grants we have received have allowed the college to respond to that need."

Each PV (photovoltaic) panel captures the sunlight and then converts it to usable electrical energy. The energy is then transformed to match the energy supplied by the utility. The electricity is used within the buildings, if needed, offsetting the amount of electricity purchased from the utility. When the facility does not require the quantity of energy produced it is considered "excess." The excess energy is then fed back through the buildings' electrical systems and to the utility grid for use elsewhere. Any excess energy fed back into the utility grid will be credited automatically, through the utility kilowatt hour meter, offsetting the total usage.

The project was funded by a $20,000 donation from British Petroleum (BP). New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) provided $25,000 in additional funding through its PV incentive program. The total system cost is $45,000. The BP SX-170W panels are warranted for 25 years, and the system is expected to be operational, with minimal cost for system maintenance, for at least 30 years.

Jeffrey Stevens, assistant professor in the Electrician, Computer and Robotics Technician Department at Alfred State College, led the team on the installation and design. Roy Butler of Four Winds Renewable Energy, Arkport, provided the technical direction and contractual guidance. The project was completed in part by students in the electrical construction and maintenance electrician program. These students gained experience by personally evaluating the site and the layout for the PV array and electrical components. They also installed all of the conduit systems for the electrical, working together in crews, exactly as they would on a "real world" jobsite.

Stevens commented, "On this project the students gained a tremendous amount of experience. We let them choose where to run conduits and install components, which gave them a great sense of ownership on the project. This excites the students to want to learn more."

The installation of the PV panels and inverter components was completed in June. A four-day PV installation workshop was held on the Wellsville campus. Students signed up through Alfred State's Continuing Education program. These students, some who are local homeowners and contractors, and some who traveled from as far away as Long Island, not only learned about the basics of PV systems in theory classes but also put the theory into practice by installing the panels and major components of the system.

The project is beneficial to everyone concerned. The Alfred Educational Foundation provided the buildings for the students to install a state-of-the-art power generation system. Alfred State College will be able to reduce its energy costs by utilizing renewable energy. BP continues to demonstrate its commitment to supporting the renewable market and to assisting in the provision of the means to train tomorrow's leaders. The students had the opportunity to improve their skills on "real world" projects, which will have lasting benefits to the college. The public has the opportunity to participate in and learn from both the installation and the ongoing use of the system.

The final components, including Web bases which monitor and report for the entire PV system are being installed, again by Alfred State students, allowing anyone to track the production of electricity. Additionally, the program will track solar energy, wind energy, and temperature, and calculate the PV system's dollar savings. A 750W wind turbine, powering a Web camera and renewable energy data collection system, is currently in the process of being installed by Alfred State students under the direction of Glenn Brubaker, assistant professor, Electrician, Computer and Robotics Technician Department. Brubaker teaches the renewable energy component of wind within the electrician's program. The college is looking forward to developing future renewable energy projects, such as wind turbine, geothermal, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), in its commitment to leadership in sustainable resource development.

The system is operational and on display at the Alfred State School of Applied Technology, Wellsville, and can be viewed by anyone by scheduling a tour. Call Barb Davis at (607) 587-3101.