The current economic situation has spurred a lot of talk, advertisements and encouragement to buy local and use local to sustain our economy. The Guinness Book of World Records named Yuma, AZ the sunniest city on earth, so where better to utilize innovative solar energy technology on Yuma’s Arizona Western College campus?
The Arizona Western College in Yuma is in the process of installing solar panels to cover close to 100 percent of its daytime electricity needs and cut its costs, all of which are planned to happen by October 2011. However, this project is doing more than just generating solar energy; it is utilizing five new types of photovoltaic technology from six different companies.
Arizona Western College plans to use the solar panels to teach classes on solar technology, installation and environmental engineering. This three-year solar project, from vision to completion, was partially funded by APS and will be managed by Main Street Power for 30 years and after the contract expires, the equipment will become part of the college and continue producing energy, says Lori Stofft, the director of public relations and marketing at Arizona Western College.
It is unique to apply five different technologies to a single institution, but that is one of the projects innovative angles.
The five photovoltaic technologies and the companies behind them include:
1. CPV (concentrator photovoltaic) from SolFocus, including their dual-axis trackers and GreenVolts fully integrated system including two-axis trackers and inverter
2. Thin Film panels from Sharp Solar
3. Monocrystalline panels from Solar World
4. Poly Crystalline panels from Suntech
5. Single-axis trackers from O Solar
Another unique aspect of this project is that the building process is streamed live over the internet to allow the community and the solar technology companies to check in on the progress.
“A lot of our partners are in Northern California, Germany, Spain… we wanted those people to feel like they were connected to our campus and that they could check in seven days a week and find out what was going on,” Stofft says. “It’s a way to include our partners in the building process.
The ground breaking was in May 2011 and the “Flip the Switch” completion ceremony is slated for October 2011. Only six months were allotted to cover 23 acres of land with solar arrays. The tight deadline was set in order to meet APS’s guidelines for the funding.
The Educational Advantage
It would make more sense to use one solar technology instead of five if it was just about energy generation, but it’s not, Stofft says. It’s about allowing the companies to measure their technologies against one another in one of the harshest climates on earth. Another educational aspect of the project will be the incubation area and the demonstration garden.
“The demonstration garden will have nine different technologies that students and the public will have access to,” Stofft says. “They can see how [the technologies] measure against each other and what measures against the five major arrays.”
The incubation area is based on rental, and for a fee, technology companies can rent a private and secure area for a small array where they can test their equipment against the solar arrays already in place. The estimated savings for Arizona Western College with the solar array in place will be $3.5 million in the first 10 years, $15.4 million in 20 years and a projected $40 million over 30 years, including incubation rental fees.
“It’s more than just saving our tax payers money; it can be a road map for other colleges around the country who want to educate their own students,” Stofft says. “There are all sorts of certificate and training programs and we could be educating people who work in solar industry at all levels.”
Arizona Western College graduated their first solar installer class of 19 in spring 2011 and are in the process of embedding solar technology into new and existing programs, developing 2-year degrees that can be transferred to four-year institutions.
It seems as though everyone wins.
Arizona Western College saves money; the solar companies get to test and monitor their technology in a large scale setting; the students reap the benefits, and the community creates jobs. The only thing left is getting a White House representative, or the president himself to the “Flip the Switch” ceremony.
A Presidential Approval
“The goal is to attract national attention to the array,” Stofft says. “I really feel this is about energy independence for our country.”
Arizona Western College sent a formal invitation to the White house, but there has been no response yet. They are keeping their fingers crossed, and if the White House plans to respond, it still has time.
“The students, faculty and community are so proud that this solar array is being installed,” Stofft says. “And if we can get the White House to visit, that will just be the cherry on top.”