What is significant, said students and faculty who held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the project Monday, is the information it will produce.
Every second, 800 signal points send in data via wireless network, measuring everything from temperature and the sun’s irradiance to power production in both alternating and direct current. The data will be stored in multiple servers that will be available to UTSA and the National Research Energy Laboratory in Denver.
This information will then be used to study how a large-scale system could work and to provide insight for cities such as San Antonio on how to use solar power to meet a larger portion of electricity demand on any given day.
“This is going to be a fantastic opportunity to not only provide clean power that is good for the environment, but also research,” said Mayor Julián Castro, who attended the event.
Early next year, UTSA plans to add panels at its downtown campus that will also feed data into the servers.
Both systems are estimated to generate a combined 427,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, not enough to fully power the buildings on which they sit. Still, UTSA will save $86,000 a year in power costs.
The panels will also generate some of the power for 10 electric vehicle charging stations, eight at the main campus and two downtown.
Because the energy production of solar panels varies with their age, temperature, level of sunlight and how clean they are, they require sophisticated monitoring.
Collecting information from solar installations at two sites makes it possible to study power production as clouds pass over the city and temperatures vary, graduate student Gerardo Trevino said.
That could help in extrapolating how much power could be produced if hundreds or thousands of buildings had solar panels on their roofs, instead of just a few, said engineering Professor Brian Kelley, who helped secure the nearly $2 million federal stimulus grant that funded the solar installations.
“This is the future of having a sustainable power supply,” Kelley said of the monitoring system.
The system is also testing out new power converters made by Ideal Power Converters, which is based in Austin and manufactures a converter to change the DC power from solar panels into AC for distribution. The converters weigh 94 pounds, versus 1,200 pounds for more conventional converters, which has made the installation of large-scale solar panels difficult.
“We are going to need this kind of technology to absorb massive amounts of solar power,” said Lanny Sinkin, executive director of nonprofit Solar San Antonio, who attended the ribbon-cutting.