Unique so­lar pro­ject in­stalled at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege


WYE MILLS — The large windmill that can be seen as trav­el­ers pass Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege on U.S. Route 50 is of­ten called iconic. But, it’s not the only re­new­able en­ergy path the col­lege has taken.

Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege has re­cently fin­ished a 6-acre array of so­lar pan­els, de­signed to pro­duce 1.76 megawatts of elec­tric­ity while the sun shines. How­ever, it’s not a run-of-the-mill so­lar panel pro­ject, due to the way the array in­ter­acts with the re­gional grid.

“Our ini­tial hope is we just wanted to get a so­lar array into the ground,” said Greg Far­ley, di­rec­tor of Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege’s Cen­ter for Lead­er­ship in En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion. “This has gone be­yond our wildest ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Far­ley said Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege launched a re­quest for pro­posal to build a so­lar en­ergy pro­ject on cam­pus prop­erty in May 2014. Be­cause Del­marva Power op­er­ates the elec­tric­ity grid in that re­gion, the pro­ject first had to be cleared with the en­ergy com­pany.

But, the col­lege was about one pro­ject too late, at the time, Far­ley said. An­other larger so­lar array was built nearby, and there was no more ca­pac­ity at the trans­form­ers in Wye Mills to ac­cept the vari­able power that re­new­able en­ergy sends back to the grid, he said.

“Up to a cer­tain point, trans­form­ers can deal with that, but then be­yond that point it be­comes re­ally an en­gi­neer­ing prob­lem,” Far­ley said.

Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege reached back to Del­marva Power and a meet­ing was called be­tween the col­lege and util­ity com­pany, along with its par­ent com­pany Pepco Hold­ings, and the com­pany that con­structed the pro­ject, So­lar City.

Far­ley de­scribed it as an op­por­tu­nity to innovate what needs to be de­signed in or­der to get more re­new­able en­ergy onto the grid in the fu­ture.

“What came out of that whole con­ver­sa­tion was Pepco, they have re­ally been the drivers of all the in­no­va­tion for this. They said, ‘Okay, we can do it. What we want to use your array for is we want to be able to de­sign a sys­tem that’ll al­low your array to fit into what the grid can re­ally ac­cept,’” Far­ley said.

“Pepco and Del­marva (Power) are de­sign­ing tech­nol­ogy that is go­ing to al­low our array to com­mu­ni­cate with the grid and to basi- cally shape our power out­put so that we don’t dam­age the grid,” he said, adding that Pepco be­lieves it’s the first time the tech­nol­ogy has ever been used in the United States.

The so­lar array has been in use since July 14. Most sunny af­ter­noons, there is at least some pe­riod where the col­lege isn’t draw­ing en­ergy off the grid.

Ac­cord­ing to Far­ley, in the last 30 days, the so­lar array pro­duced about 256,200 kilo­watt-hours. The av­er­age Mary­land home uses about 1,000 kWh each month, he said.

“This means that our array pro­duced enough elec­tric­ity to power about 256 homes last month; that num­ber will be lower for the whole year, be­cause the days get shorter in the win­ter,” Far­ley said. “But I think it’s prob­a­bly safe to say that our array would power ap­prox­i­mately 250 homes each year.”

Far­ley said Pepco and the col­lege are work­ing with a bat­tery ven­dor so that dur­ing times when the col­lege has to shut down its so­lar array so the Wye Mills trans­form­ers aren’t dam­aged, the en­ergy could be di­verted to the bat­tery and stored for later use. The hope is to have the bat­tery in place by the end of the year.

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