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Solar System Backs Up Generator, Keeps Power On in Face of Sandy’s Fury

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A typical solar panel installation on the roof of an industrial building Credits: Katie Hallock, Director of Operations, Advanced Solar Products
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When Sandy slammed into Bayonne, NJ, a one-of-a-kind solar electric system developed by Advanced Solar Products, Inc. (www.advancedsolarproducts.com) of Flemington, NJ helped keep the power on at Midtown Community School, where 50 to 75 grateful residents of this historic Hudson Riverfront city spent the night sleeping on cots in the warm, dry and well-lighted community room.

Power from the grid was lost to all of Bayonne, including Midtown Community School, which also serves as a community emergency evacuation center, about 9:00 on the evening of October 29. The lights at the school stayed on, however, because of its unique solar backup system. 

“A growing number of school districts in New Jersey have been installing solar panels to convert sunlight directly into electricity in order to reduce their utility bills,” explains Richard Schaefer, who heads the school’s facilities group.  “Our system, however, is the only one we know of anywhere in the world that is specifically designed to not only reduce our energy consumption from the grid, but also to operate in conjunction with a diesel generator in the event of a power failure such as the one we just experienced.”

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The large commercial-scale solar system, at the time part of the largest solar power project on the east coast, was designed and built with assistance from Advanced Solar Products (ASP) and installed in 2004.  “The system was never intended to replace the diesel generator,” explains Lyle Rawlings, a solar pioneer and President of ASP since 1991.   “Using solar photovoltaic arrays designed to operate in conjunction with an uninterruptible power supply such as a diesel generator is just one of many ways solar can be deployed to reduce emissions and increase reliability.” 

The generator is large enough to meet the electricity needs of the school during a power failure, but gulps huge quantities of expensive diesel fuel, which must be delivered by truck if supplies can be located at all during and after an emergency such as Sandy.  “We knew it was going to be bad, so we had the diesel fuel tank topped off Sunday night,” said Schaefer.  “Our supplier came back and filled us up with about 150 gallons on Tuesday afternoon and another 246 gallons a couple of days later.  Without our solar system on the roof of the school, we would have needed even more fuel, which would have been difficult to find because it was needed for all the repair trucks operating around the state.”

In order to provide this capability, the school's solar power system was specially modified with new controls, sensors and innovative software to enable it to automatically detect a power outage.  When it does, it immediately shifts its output from circuitry powering the school’s ordinary heating, cooling and lighting systems to the building's emergency circuits, keeping the generator running at a steady, low level.

“Storms such as Sandy will become more frequent if we do not stem greenhouse gas induced climate change,” says Rawlings.  “Widespread adoption of solar power is an economically beneficial way to reduce greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.”

ASP has built over 45 megawatts of solar projects throughout New Jersey and several other states in the Northeast, enough energy to meet the needs of more than 6,000 New Jersey homes.  For more information, contact Katie Hallock, Director of Operations, Advanced Solar Products, Inc. at (908) 751-5818 or Katie@advancedsolarproducts.com.

 

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