Farmland in Oberlin, Ohio, is now producing more than corn and beans. Smack dab in the middle of one field, Oberlin College built a 2.27-MW tracking solar array. Completion came later than expected, but the final panels were brought online in late October. The system produced approximately 185,000 kWh throughout the month of November, says Rob Lamppa, the college’s director of sustainability and energy management.
“We’re looking forward to monitoring the production over the next year to find out what it can really do,” he says.
Lamppa says the tracking system, which covers about 10 acres, will generate 15 to 20% more electricity than a fixed-mount system. Students and staff – and even the community – will be able to monitor the solar array. A data-carrying fiber optic cable runs from the site to the college, about a half-mile.
The array is in addition to two smaller systems on campus – a 59-kW installation on the roof of the environmental studies building and a 101-kW array on a parking pavilion. Altogether, the arrays provide a lab for students interested in renewable energy.
“The students will be able to study the differences between a tracking system and a fixed system,” Lamppa says. “They’ll be able to see what happens when the cloud goes over and the difference between a large array and a smaller one, from an efficiency standpoint.”
The tracking array is comprised of 7,722 polycrystalline panels and is expected to produce 3 million kWh of electricity each year, or about 12% of the college’s annual consumption. The college entered into an agreement with Spear Point Energy to purchase electricity from the array. SPG Solar designed and built the system.
The array also fits into the city’s Oberlin Project, which is a community effort to, in part, make the city carbon neutral.
“The whole community is behind this,” Lamppa says. “This is a big step in that direction and it’s an example of our commitment to that.” The college says the array is the largest on any campus in Ohio.
Solar Power World assistant editor Steven Bushong and multimedia specialist Jessica East visited the site earlier this year and interviewed Lamppa on camera: