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Photovoltaic (PV) system installation is no different than any other craft: quality begins with a good foundation. And when it comes to ground mount solar panel systems it begins beneath the surface, it begins with the pile driver.
A pile driving machine is used for ground mount photovoltaic systems and from the viewpoint of solar energy pioneer Ken Olson of Sol Energy: “Pile drivers are an economic and efficient alternative to standard procedures for photovoltaic array installations.”
Standard procedure used to require multiple steps. First a soil engineer conducts a soil report and the foundation is designed. Then a back hoe digs the holes and sonotube is set inside. Next steel rebar is added. Finally the hole is backfilled with concrete and inspector is called for a site review.
With the pile driver the engineering data is immediate. Ground supports are driven into the ground with a pile driving machine—no more back hoe. Soil samples are retrieved and inspected on site.
“We know exactly what the resistive strengths are of what we are putting into the ground,” Olson says.
The pilings themselves are made of galvanized steel approximately 7-10’ in length. They are set into place according to the design. Once they are plumbed the driving machine pounds them into the earth. Sol Energy sourced their pilings for the City of Rifle projects from S:Flex—a mounting system producer located in Sheridan, Colorado on the Front Range.
Sol Energy used the pile driver for all of the City of Rifle’s ground mount installations.
“Residential and Commercial PV systems have, until recently, been limited to a maximum of 600 volts,” Sol Energy president Ken Olson says. “[The Boulder project] is a good example of the way the industry is going in terms of higher voltage systems.”
In recent years, Olson adds, double digit growth of photovoltaic (PV) systems in the utility sector has spurred development of equipment with listed ratings of 1000 Volts. Many in the PV industry believe that these higher voltages are soon to become the new standard in commercial as well as residential PV systems. The Boulder project demonstrates how the PV industry is moving toward lower costs and higher efficiencies.
Photovoltaic inverter producer SMA Solar Technology Global Product Manager Ken Christensen explains: “Listed 1,000 V PV components provide the same assurance of safety as traditional 600 Volt- rated components, but owners of 1,000 Volt PV systems benefit from significantly reduced costs and increased energy production.”
The Boulder County Longhorn facility’s PV capacity is 48.45 kilo-Watts and is expected to generate over 75,000 kilo-Watt-hours (kWh) annually. 75,000 kWh helps Boulder County to achieve their green goal with Longhorn: a Net Zero energy building. That means that the all of the building’s energy—heating and cooling—is provided on-site.
“[Boulder County] did all of its [building designs] as efficiently as possible,” says Boulder County Project Coordinator Ron Diederichsen. And with the addition of Longhorn’s PV system to their other clean energy buildings, Boulder County’s facilities “total one megawatt.”
Megawatt equals one million watts. That’s a lot of clean, green power.
Municipalities are going green. Solar energy systems for municipalities are a cost effective, energy efficient alternative to traditional utility services. The path from a heavy carbon footprint to a more sustainable energy strategy is a partnership, the first step of which is a municipality’s solar energy awareness.
“Progressive municipalities are looking forward to cleaner, greener power,” Sol Energy president Ken Olson says. “They subscribe to the concept of the new energy economy.”
Just knowing solar energy is cleaner is not enough for city officials to move forward. They have a responsibility to their tax payers and the city budget bottom line. The good news for solar energy partnerships is that the municipality’s cost is zero, with significant savings over time.
“With third-party financing it will cost [municipalities] no money up front,” says Olson, “and will save [their taxpayers] from day one.”
Private third-party financiers take advantage of tax credits. Municipalities cannot. Through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), the financiers own and manage the systems. Municipalities buy the clean energy at a cost that is less than what they would otherwise pay to a utility company. The end result is no cash up front for the municipality and substantial energy savings over the years of the lease.
A model program is the City of Rifle, Colorado. City officials committed to a sustainable “Energy Village” strategy, including Sol Energy’s design and installation of eight photovoltaic (PV) systems. The City estimates savings of $400K over the next twenty years.