UW-Rock County turns to sun power

Posted on July 30, 2010. Filed under: Solar |


From an article by Frank Schultz in the Janesville Gazette:

JANESVILLE — The sun doesn’t always shine.

Such was the case during a recent week—wouldn’t you know it—as Bob McCallister was showing off UW-Rock County’s new solar-energy project.

The Janesville campus is home to three configurations of solar panels, all pumping out electricity that the power company is buying.

Even on an overcast day, there was enough light to generate juice, the UW-Rock geography professor noted.

Then the sun broke through the clouds.

McCallister was standing underneath a pole-mounted array, which can sense the brightest spot in the sky and turn towards it, like a sunflower.

“Oh look, look! You can really see it!”

Sure enough, the 9-by-12-foot array moved, ever so slowly, to the best light-absorbing angle.

“These things are quite a bit more expensive up front, but they’re also a lot more efficient,” said McCallister, who has been working to get the solar project up and running for the past four years.

In addition to the array that tracks the sun, there’s another pole-mounted array that can be adjusted manually to account for the angle of the sun as the seasons change.

A third set of solar panels is anchored like an awning along the south side of the school’s engineering addition.

Each array has nine identical photovoltaic panels that turn sunlight into electricity. The arrays produced direct current or DC. The DC runs through devices called inverters, which convert it to alternating current—AC. Alternating current is the kind of electricity everyone uses at home.

Planning began in 2006, but the panels didn’t start generating electricity until late last year.

In the first five months of this year, the panels generated $1,060 worth of electricity. The state, which pays UW-Rock’s utility bills, benefits from the arrangement.

If this average carries through for the year, the total net credit to the state would be over $2,500 for 2010.

The money is nice, but McCallister and his colleagues hope to generate more than electricity.

The prime objective is to teach, and UW-Rock professors are bursting with plans.

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