Photovoltaic Technology in the Huntington District
April 15, 2014
By Brian Maka
Photovoltaics technologies have been deployed to eight U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District lakes largely due to the efforts of Denis Chabot of the Readiness Branch of Operations.
Photovoltaics is a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity using semiconductors. Such power generation employs solar panels composed of a number of solar cells containing a photovoltaic material. Due to the increased demand for renewable energy sources, the manufacturing of solar cells and photovoltaic arrays has advanced considerably in recent years.
Solar photovoltaics is a sustainable energy source. Solar photovoltaics is now, after hydro and wind power, the third most important renewable energy source in terms of globally- installed capacity. Installations may be ground-mounted or built into the roof or walls of a building.
Driven by advances in technology and increases in manufacturing scale and sophistication, the cost of photovoltaics has declined steadily since the first solar cells were manufactured. Net metering and financial incentives, such as preferential feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity and tax credits; have supported solar photovoltaic installations in many places.
In 2011 Chabot submitted a request through a Corps-wide competition for funding for Green Energy projects. Through the competition the district was awarded $1.26 million, of which more than $800,000 was used to emplace photovoltaic solar panels at eight of the district's lakes. These lakes include Beech Fork and Yatesville in the Big Sandy Area; Atwood, Beach City, Charles Mill and Leesville in the Muskingum Area; and Delaware and Deer Creek in the Scioto Area.
"Most of the solar panel arrays at our projects are ground mounted. The exception is at Beach City and Dillon, where the solar panels are mounted on the roof of the project maintenance office. Each array is on a fixed mount that is trained in the optimal direction to be able to generate power year round," said Chabot.
The photovoltaic solar panels are virtually maintenance free, but some challenges do exist. On cloudy days the performance of the panels will be noticeably depleted, as will snow cover. Snow should quickly melt due to the heat generated by the dark colored panels. Occasionally, dust may cause problems, but the next rainfall should alleviate any temporary degradation in efficiency, explained Chabot.
The panels have a 25-year warranty that their efficiency will not dip below a 75 percent efficiency rate. This means the panels will produce electricity for many years to come. The panels, when operating at maximum efficiency, will generate 142 kilowatt hours daily. This is enough electricity to power 1,420 100-watt light bulbs every day; the equivalent to powering as many as 62 homes daily.
"In the private sector, photovoltaic solar panels provide three major benefits: tax incentives, lower electric bills and solar renewable energy credits. Although our district will not realize tax incentives or solar renewable energy credits, we will benefit from lower electric bills at these eight sites. This effort will allow the district to continue our important missions while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions," said Chabot.
Denis Chabot is an environmental engineer and graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in civil engineering. He has worked his entire 30-year career in the Huntington District. He led the efforts to achieve funding and emplacing the solar panel arrays at the eight projects. He was assisted in his efforts by Scott Pittman, Jonathan West and Chris Mount from the district's Engineering Construction Division.
The work would not have been possible without the plans and specifications developed by the contractors Third Sun Solar and Solar Energy Solutions. And of course the critical task of supervising the installation of the solar arrays was done by Dave Callahan at, Dan Fanning, Scott Collins, Bonnie Maki, Ben Odel and Tim Conkey, district employees assigned to the various lake projects.
"It was a distinct privilege to know that these solar arrays will have a positive impact long after I move on to retirement," said Chabot.