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Solar panels at the Community Market Building in Danville, Va., have generated 36.4 MWh of energy since March. | Photo Courtesy of Danville
The historic building where area farmers sell produce straight from the field to consumers is now home to Danville, Virg.’s first renewable energy project — a 154-panel solar energy system.
The city, steeped in history, has taken this significant leap toward a new energy future by using a $202,000 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant awarded through the U.S. Department of Energy.
“Public reaction to the solar panels was positive,” says Ken Ashworth, the city’s power and light director.
According to Ashworth, the solar panels are expected to offset about 34 tons of carbon emissions per year, or the same amount generated by using 3,500 gallons of gasoline. This is possible because the panels will generate an estimated 43.4 MWh annually, which will help the city avoid significant electricity costs as it sells the grid-tied system’s energy to the local utility. Since March, the system has generated 36.4 MWh of electricity, which has saved Danville about $2,837.
Getting on the grid
Before installing the system and tying it to the electrical grid, Danville officials first had to find the proper location for the panels, says Ashworth.
The requirements included finding a city-owned, southwestern-facing rooftop on a building with sufficient roof support structures. “The Community Market Building ended up being a perfect fit,” says Ashworth.
In addition, the highly visible location at a market and as a neighbor to a research facility didn’t hurt either. The adjacent Danville Science Center now houses a kiosk where residents can see the solar panels’ energy output and other solar industry information on a computer there, he notes.
The solar panels were purchased and installed by Southern Energy Management, a company located just across state lines in North Carolina. Sharp panels (manufactured in Memphis, Tenn.) and Satcom inverters were used for the project, which SEM will maintain for the city.
While the market solar project was Danville’s first venture into renewable energy, and while nothing is official on any new projects, city Power and Light Director Ken Ashworth says Danville is considering several future options in the clean energy sector.
“We really went the extra mile on it,” he says.