City embarks on solar power project

Sunday, January 27, 2008 | 7:55 p.m. CST; updated 12:09 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A solar power demonstration project at a city water pumping station, funded by a $50,000 grant from Dow Chemical’s Solar America Initiative, should be in place by April.

City officials hope the 5-kilowatt photovoltaic system, which will be installed by Prost Builders’ Missouri Solar Applications, will eventually boost the amount of power generated from renewable sources and demonstrate how effective solar arrays can be in central Missouri. It’s similar to a recent project in which a 2-kilowatt system was installed at the Columbia Area Career Center to generate electricity for the school and to allow students and faculty to study the technology.

On the Web

To watch real-time data on the generation of solar power at the Columbia Area Career Center, click here.

The newest project will take place at Columbia’s West Ash Street Pump Station at Tiger Lane and Bernadette Drive.

Jay Hasheider of the Water and Light Department says he is excited about its potential.

“There are really no downfalls to this project,” Hasheider said. “This is a great opportunity to provide the city with a great resource to study power.”

Water and Light spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said the project is small in scale but will be useful in demonstrating how solar power can be used for homes and businesses.

“There is not a lot of information regarding what can work in Columbia, but it will measure the effectiveness in utility and solar panels for the public,” Kacprowicz said.

Dow Chemical has funded similar demonstration projects in Michigan and California.

Vaughn Prost of Missouri Solar Applications on Friday said the solar array at the pumping station will use the latest technology in the field.

“The idea of these demonstration projects is to develop new technology in capturing sun rays,” Prost said, explaining that the most common solar arrays use silicon to harness the sun’s energy. The pumping station system, however, will gauge whether a combination of metals and silicon is more efficient.

In exchange for its grant, Dow Chemical will have access to the system so it can gather data and study the feasibility of further integrating photovoltaic systems into the electric grid, according to a memo to the Columbia City Council from John Glascock, interim director of the Water and Light Department.

The project comes on the heels of a similar system’s installation at the Columbia Area Career Center, which was dedicated earlier this month. Students at the career center will collect and analyze data from that solar array, which is designed to demonstrate how homeowners can install solar systems and sell excess electricity back to the city utility through a net metering agreement.

The career center project includes a 2-kilowatt system that will provide real-time data on the amount of solar radiation, temperature, wind speed and humidity. The system also allows students to move the solar modules to use school computers to evaluate what angle, time of day and time of year are best for solar energy production, according to a city news release.

Data from the $30,000 career center system is available on the Web. The project was paid for by the Water and Light Department and will be maintained by Columbia Public Schools.

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Mark Foecking January 28, 2008 | 10:38 a.m.

In California, people use grid tie because the power company buys power back at three times the normal rate. Here, it's only cost-for-cost. Grid tie here is not worth it. It's a waste of time and money. One can get more power for less money by keeping it separate.

Installing a separate solar power system displaces energy usage watt-for-watt (an appliance is either plugged into the grid or your power system). One can use cheaper inverters. One does not have to deal with the whole layer of bureaucracy, inspection, labor requirements, and insurance that grid-tie brings. Even with batteries, the cost of a grid-tied system is nearly twice what a separate system can be had for.

The city tends to want people to think they are encouraging green power. But there is a law (Chapter 27, sec 120.1 Columbia Code of Ordinances) restricting grid tied installations to 1% of peak load. Why? What has the city got to lose by letting people hook on small scale generation capability.


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