Harnessing Solar Power

NEW ULM – One of the largest photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems in Minnesota is part of an energy open house at the New Ulm Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Southern Region headquarters on Tuesday, July 23.

A formal presentation on the PV system begins at 11 a.m. Tuesday, followed by a tour. Staff at the DNR office will answer questions about energy use and other DNR-related issues at the event.

The $309,000, 83 kilowatt (kW), American made system uses 330 250-watt solar panels and a micro-inverter to create alternating current to power the DNR building. When the sun is shining, excess power produced by the panels is sold back to the Brown County Rural Electrical Association (REA).

“We encourage the public to visit our regional office at any time,” said DNR Regional Director Dennis Frederickson. “We hope this event will be a reason to stop by and learn about our efforts to preserve and protect our natural resources with responsible energy use.”

Completed this spring, the system is expected to generate 100,000 kW per year, saving about $10,000 in annual electrical costs, avoid 75 metric tons of annual carbon emissions, which is equal to 15 less cars on the road. Funding for eight of the DNR’s 25 renewable energy systems came from Xcel Energy Renewable Energy Development Fund grants.

The DNR program is part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s Comprehensive Energy Conservation and Sustainability Action Plan for state government designed to cut total energy use 20 percent by the end of 2015.

Frederickson said the solar energy system has a 20-year payback. It was funded by the state renewable energy fund and energy bonding money. Solar panels are angled to prevent snow from accumulating on the surface and blocking sunlight, according to the DNR.

“Each panel has its own inverter, so if one fails, the rest of the system still operates,” Frederickson said. “It produces energy even on cloudy days, although not as much as during direct sunlight. By 9 a.m. Thursday, we were producing 110 percent of our building energy use and selling the remaining 10 percent back to our power provider.”

The New Ulm DNR site includes geothermal heating and cooling condensing units installed four years ago that further reduce energy usage.

An Energy Smart website allows DNR facility employees and the general public to actively monitor and learn about power generation, total energy produced, and usage rates daily, over three days, a month or year. Visit www.mndnr.gov/energysmart

According to Energy Smart measured late Thursday morning summarizing energy generated and produced over the previous three days, power produced was equal to six single-family homes powered for seven days, CO2 offset equaled 25 grown trees which equals the CO2 produced by a car driven 2,669 miles.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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