From left, Kyle Adams, mechanical engineer for Arista Power works with Erick Palmer, a renewable energy technology student at Morrisville State College, during the installation of a solar photovoltaic systemon Steve and Joan Law’s pole barn on English Avenue in Morrisville. (Photo by Nicolas Murphy)
By Franci Valenzano
(Morrisville, NY – Oct. 3, 2012) Steve Law intentionally had his pole barn built facing south on his picturesque, 13-acre property with future plans to install solar panels that would offset some of his energy costs.
The hefty price tag on a new solar system kept his plans at bay until recently when he heard about Solarize Madison, a program that’s helping home owners, businesses and others install solar energy panels at a discounted rate with fewer hurdles.
Law was one of the first Madison County residents to enroll and sign a contract with Arista Power.
This week, Arista Power, Inc., installed a 7 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on Steve and Joan Law’s 40-by-60-foot pole barn on English Avenue in Morrisville. The 28 new, shiny, dark panels are expected to save the Laws 53 percent on their energy bill.
Steve Law watched intently as a team of workers, donned in hard hats, installed the stretch of solar panels across the roof of his pole barn. The panels will convert the light from the sun to electricity.
The Law’s location was perfect, according to Glenn Steed, installation coordinator at Arista, the Rochester-based company preselected by Solarize Madison to install the systems.
“A project like this is a dream,” Steed said. “It’s an awesome location for solar.”
Arista added an educational element to their installation project, welcoming 21 Morrisville State College renewable energy technology students to work alongside them gaining hands-on experience during a portion of the installation at the Law’s house.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for students,” Steed said. “We were more than happy to open the site to them.”
The students, taking Professor Phil Hofmeyer’s Solar Energy Systems class, got a greater appreciation for solar energy and what it takes to install a system.
Students from basic and advanced solar energy courses were engaged with Artista’s installation crew on two days as they worked from scaffolding to install rails and modules, run electrical circuits, and discuss system design.
“On the second day, we reviewed the site from an electrical code perspective, and then we actually had the students on the roof with us helping to install the last few solar panels in the system,” Steed said.
The Laws are the second Madison County residents so far to benefit from Solarize Madison, a program started by an ambitious Morrisville State College student, Jan Myers, determined to bring solar energy close to home. Solarize Madison is the first volume purchasing solar initiative in New York state.
Myers, of Chenango County, was among spectators viewing the solar panel installation while also documenting its progress on camera.
“It is very exciting to watch this,” said Myers who brought the idea home from Oregon, where the solarize program was launched. “Already in just three months, the program has exceeded the total kilowatts installed in Madison County over the last eight years and Solarize Madison was successful in stimulating the local market for non-solar installations.”
Myers enrolled in Morrisville State College’s renewable energy technology program with a vested interest in sustainable energy. She added making solar energy installations easy and affordable to her top goals this year.
“I spent over a year researching the other solarize programs that began springing up nationwide and wondered what it would take to develop a program for New York state,” Myers said. “I started networking, talking to local community members, and fielding questions; it was nearly a year before Jamie Hart, senior planner for the Madison County Planning Department, reached out to me.”
Madison County was awarded a $30,000 grant to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy within the community. The Madison County Planning Department offered (15) $2,000 grants to homeowners to help offset the costs associated with installing a direct-own solar photovoltaic system. Funding was on a first-come, first-served basis.
Law, an automotive technology professor at Morrisville State College, jumped at the opportunity when he heard Solarize Madison was seeking candidates for its program.
“I am so excited about this project,” he said.
Through Solarize Madison, participants receive a discount on the initial installation costs through volume pricing.
In the end, the original cost of the $42,000 system ($6 a watt) was reduced to a reachable estimated $7,000 ($1 a watt), an investment Law guesses will be paid off in seven or eight years.
Part of Law’s enthusiasm stemmed from student involvement.
“The added incentive of this project is that Morrisville students are part of it, gaining hands-on experience,” he said. “I’m very happy to tap into the skills of our students and it feels great that they can be part of this.”
Students were divided into teams installing at three stations learning from three different professionals.
Ryan Quinn, was part of the team working on electrical wiring with guidance from Chad Salerno, an electrician with Jeff Salerno Electric LLC, in Oneida.
“This is an invaluable experience,” said Quinn, a renewable energy technology student who moved from Oakdale, Long Island. Quinn traded his job as an oil spill response technician to train for one in the renewable energy field.
The solar installation experience wasn’t new altogether. Students had already been working on solar energy models in labs.
“They’ve already done solar installations in their labs in a more controlled environment, but now they are out here on a real job site,” Hofmeyer said. “Real-world application—it’s what we can’t easily mimic in the classroom. It doesn’t get any more real-world than what they are doing here.”
“Opportunities like this, and the partnerships that professors have created are one of the reasons the Morrisville renewable energy program is so strong,” Steed said. “The students are not only able to get excellent classroom and lab instruction from passionate professors, but through these types of partnerships, are also able to experience different scenarios and working job sites—all of which hopefully keeps their excitement going and furthers the positive community-minded basis of the solarize program.”
Solarize Madison is made possible through the Madison County Planning Department and the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board with support from the Renewable Energy Training Center atMorrisville State College.
The community will have a chance to tour three homes of solar-savvy patrons as Solarize Madison hosts its first annual Solar Tour Oct. 6, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. beginning at the Madison County Office Building in Wampsville. The Solar Tour is part of the ASES National Solar Tour event held each year in October. Madison County is providing a guided, bussed tour of the first system installations through the program. Space is limited on the bus. Contact Jamie Hart at 315-366-2376 to reserve a spot.
The tour introduces Madison County residents to the solar technologies their friends and neighbors are using and also provides an opportunity to talk with professionals about the variety of solar solutions available.
The event is free and open to the public. For a complete list of homes on tour and their open house time, visit www.ases.org/tour .
How does solar electricity work?
Solar PV Systems use photovoltaic (PV) technology to produce electricity from a clean source. Specifically, solar modules convert sunlight into DC power. A device known as an inverter then converts the DC power to AC power (which is the same electricity as provided by the utility grid). The power then travels from the inverter to your electric service panel, and is distributed throughout your use. No batteries are required for a grid-tied solar PV system.
A solar electric system generates electricity that can be used throughout your home to power the electric appliances and other devices, which reduces the amount of electricity you need to purchase from your utility company. On sunny days you may not have a use for all the electricity you are generating and any excess flows out to the electric grid where it is available to other electric customers. When your system generates more electricity than you use, you receive a credit from your utility. This credit is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh).
Franci Valenzano is a Public Relations Associate at Morrisville State College.