Installing the moveable array of panels along a well-traveled road on the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School campus will teach students about renewable energy and generate a higher profile.
by Tux Turkel, staff writer
Portland Press Herald news story
The state’s first solar array that tracks the sun to charge electric vehicles will be installed later this summer at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris. Supporters hope the project will inspire students to pursue careers in renewable energy and raise the community’s profile among electric vehicle owners.
The board of the Oxford Hills School District recently approved the charging station, which will be located in the school’s parking lot and be visible from Route 26, a busy corridor through western Maine for tourists, skiers and local residents. It is the first public solar tracker in Maine.
The project developers picked a tracking solar array because it produces more electricity than conventional, fixed solar installations and because the daily movement will help students see the connection between the earth’s revolution around the sun and the sun’s power potential.
“The whole thing about putting sunshine in your tank will be obvious, we think,” said Fred Garbo, a partner at Garbo-Kane LLC in Norway, which will install the panels.
Garbo is on the advisory board of the Norway-based Center For Ecology-Based Economy, which promotes sustainable solutions around food, shelter, energy and transportation issues. The center is spearheading the installation, which will cost $45,000 and is being funded by an anonymous donor and in-kind contributions.
“We’re trying to make a transition to non-fossil fuel based energy and transportation, and this project hits both of those,” said Scott Vlaun, the center’s executive director.
Vlaun said he hopes the center’s staff also will be able to visit the district’s technical school to talk about solar and job opportunities in renewable energy. That’s just an idea now, but Patrick Hartnett, the district’s assistant superintendent, said the example provided by the solar charger could lead to a career path for some students.
“It’s a great opportunity for the community and school district to collaborate on a mutually-beneficial project,” he said.
The solar tracker will hold 20 panels on a single pole. The design is called a dual-axis tracker, because it uses a motor and GPS technology to move the panels from east to west, as well as up and down. By maintaining an optimal position to the changing position of the sun, the charging station is expected to produce more power than a comparable, fixed array.
The output is rated at 6.3 kilowatts and the system is expected to generate 10,000 kilowatt hours annually, which is almost twice what a typical home uses. The system is tied to the grid through the school, so the chargers will work all the time and excess power generated in the summer can offset the district electric bill.
The station will have three plugs – one for Tesla cars and a pair of Level 2 chargers for other electric vehicles. A full charge on the Level 2 plugs will take three hours or so.
“If it’s sunny out, the panels will be charging the cars,” Garbo said, who owns a Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen e-Golf, both which he fuels with his own solar tracker.
The project’s supporters say that while students and faculty may use the charging station, they also want to attract electric vehicle drivers who are passing through Norway-South Paris and need a charge. Use of the station would be free. Two car dealers and a repair shop in the community now have charging stations. Two other stations, developed by the center and partners, also are available – one at the Deering Street parking lot in Norway and the other at the police station in South Paris – and are free as well. Travelers locate them through a mobile app or website operated by PlugShare, a software company that maps charging stations.
The project developers expect to have the station open in time for the school year and the Maine Drive Electric Weekend on Sept. 16 and 17, part of a national expo week for electric vehicles.
Tony Giambro, a center board member and owner of Paris Autobarn, has 45 rooftop solar panels that feed three electric vehicle chargers at his shop. But the school array will have greater visibility and impact.
“We want kids to see this, to inspire them to get on board with the future of energy and transportation,” he said.