This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ribbon cutting for the Rensselaer Solar Farm

The Rensselaer Solar Farm, which is owned by IMPA, the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, had its ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday. The solar farm has been in operation for over two years and was the first operational solar farm that IMPA completed.
The ceremony began with several speeches. The President and CEO of IMPA, Raj Rao, said that Rensselaer joined IMPA in 1983 and that the agency had learned a lot in building the Rensselaer Solar Farm. Also stepping up to the microphone were Doug Gutwein, Mayor Steve Wood, and an engineer for IMPA, Jack Alvey.

Then people, which included a middle school science class, assembled for the cutting of the ribbon. There were an lots of people taking pictures.
 The big moment of ribbon cutting.
 Then there was a quick tour of the facility, which involved almost no walking. Most of those who were on the tour were the middle school kids. They learned that the facility had 3188 panels and each supplied 305 watts per hour. On cloudy days the output is 20% or 30% of what it is on sunny days. IMPA currently has 14 operational solar parks and would like to have one in each community it serves.
 Below is a view of the panels that I will probably never see again. During the tour, the installation was shut down to reduce the chance of an accident.
 I asked about lawn care. The green strips are mowed and the area under the panels is treated with herbicide so it will not have to be mowed.  The IMPA representative giving the tour said that the panels used in the Rensselaer facility are still being manufactured and they are considerably cheaper today than they were two years ago, so the economics of these facilities is getting better.

One of the student asked why the facility could not generate power from moonlight and the tour guide struggled to come up with an unconvincing answer. (I think the correct answer is that the sun is 400,000 times brighter than the full moon.)

The power from every two rows of panels is collected in boxes in the center aisle of the facility.
 From there it goes to transformers at the front where the direct current of the panels is converted to alternating current for the power grid.
Listening in to a conversation after the tour, I learned that IMPA now has one tracking farm in which the panels move during the day to track the sun. However, they only track from east to west, on one axis, and do not adjust for the height of the sun above the horizon. That requires tracking on two axes, and is much more complicated. Also, if the Rensselaer facility were being built today, IMPA would build it to fully fill the site with panels and not leave the large empty area in front. As one of the speakers said, IMPA learned a lot when it constructed the Rensselaer facility and it has used what it learned on other solar farms that it has constructed.

There is a chance Rensselaer may get a second solar park. The idea is being discussed and explored.

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