Slowly but surely, Stone Lab is reducing its dependency on the grid.
Over time, the solar energy collected by the lab on Gibraltar Island on Lake Erie is expected to reduce conventional energy consumption at its facilities between 10 and 25 percent.
Solar panels are near the shoreline, on the roof of the classroom building and on the roof of the adjacent research pavilion. The panels along with low-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads and a solar-thermal project in the dining hall, which produces almost all of the building’s hot water, have helped reduce energy costs. But that’s not the only reason they were adopted.
“This gives students the hands-on ability to look at solar panels in action and show how important sustainable energy is,” said Christopher Winslow, assistant director of the Ohio Sea Grant College program at Ohio State University. “Solar is the new wave, it’s the new exciting thing, and what this platform provides is the ability to do extensive research on it.”
The solar-electricity project at Stone Lab was split into two phases, the first of which went live on June 13, 2012, and featured the construction of a solar pavilion, an outdoor classroom that produces solar energy and additional solar panels mounted on the ground.
Half of the pavilion’s 44 panels are monocrystalline silicon, made up of solar cells with one silicon crystal. They tend to produce slightly more solar energy on cloudy days than other styles. The other half are polycrystalline silicon, created with multiple silicon crystals. They are slightly less efficient. Researchers are comparing the two.
The six research panels on the ground can be manually tilted to different angles to experiment with the effectiveness of various positions, said Matt Thomas, the lab’s manager.
Because the lab’s focus is research, the installation process was quite a bit different from most others, said Dave Leahy, director of sales at Dovetail Solar and Wind and the project manager of the pavilion’s installation.
“Most of the time, people just want to know how to get the lowest costs and go with what’s best for them,” Leahy said. “It took a little bit more time with this because they wanted to know about all of the different possibilities and tried to feature several of them in the design.”
Leahy said the Stone Lab panels are connected to machinery that tracks the electricity produced over time.
Additional solar panels were installed atop the Stone Lab classroom building in October 2013 during the project’s second phase. Those panels are high-efficiency models that employ different solar strategies by row, allowing for comparison.
None of the electricity is stored, so what’s not used during the day when it is generated is lost. Cloudy days pose a problem as well, which is why the lab stays on the grid — for now.
The region’s access to sun during the spring and summer months makes the lab an ideal location for solar experimentation and research, Thomas said. “We really have some of the ideal solar capacity in Ohio.”
Eventually, officials there would like to expand their sustainable-energy sources to other buildings on Gibraltar Island, such as the dormitories, and potentially beyond. They’re also trying to make data collected from the solar panels more accessible online so it can be better used in research.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Winslow said.
By Lauren Gibbons - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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