By Jennifer Runyon
On Monday, attendees of Power Generation Week toured solar arrays both on the roof of the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) and in various locations around its campus.
John Culver, Sustainability Program Manager for the convention center led the rooftop tour and explained that OCCC, as part of Orange County, is committed to sustainability and the advancement of solar. The 1-MW rooftop array was installed in 2008 and uses 175W Solar World panels, which were cutting edge at time the array was built. Today’s newest modules on the market range from 275-315W and in July, LG announced its 360W NeON 72 module. When the OCCC system was installed it was the largest rooftop solar installation in the southeast, but that title has since been usurped by Darden Restaurants, also in Orlando, which installed a 1.1-MW rooftop array in 2012.
According to Culver, the array at OCCC is producing more power than was originally expected. “We are about a year ahead of schedule on our ROI,” he said. The system has an annual output of around 1.5 gigawatt-hours, which is 112 percent over budget.
OCCC’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond the solar arrays. It has performed major energy efficiency upgrades, boasts an indoor vertical garden that can grow enough produce for 800 salads per week, and has a robust recycling program, said Culver. He said that if even 1 percent of the 1.4 million visitors to the convention center each year take home a bit of information about sustainability that they didn’t know before, then 14,000 people go back to wherever they call home better equipped to live sustainably.
“That’s the ripple effect that sustainability can have,” he said.
Solving the Solar Visibility Problem
With the vast majority of OCCC’s commitment to solar energy on its roof, it had a visibility problem. How could it make sure that those 1.4 million annual visitors are aware that some of the power in the building is coming from the sun when they can’t see the solar panels? This is problem faced not just by OCCC but also by the hundreds of corporations and utilities around the world that have installed similar rooftop solar arrays but have no good way of broadcasting that solar commitment to customers.
North Carolina-based Spotlight Solar thinks it has the solution. Spotlight Solar has developed 3-kW solar structures called “solar trees” that companies can install in front of their headquarters or in other highly visible locations to literally shine a light on their solar commitment. OCCC in conjunction with Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) has four such solar trees placed strategically around the 400-acre convention center campus. Power Generation Week attendees who missed the Solar Tree tour on Monday are encouraged to visit them over the course of the week.
OUC has additional solar trees throughout the city of Orlando, said Sam Choi, Renewable Energy Manager at the utility on the tour.
The primary function of a solar tree, according to Craig Merrigan, CEO and co-founder of Spotlight Solar, is communication. The interactive and aesthetically pleasing solar sculptures exist so that organizations can communicate to the world that they have installed solar or are powering at least a portion of their organization with solar. At OCCC, not only can conference attendees use the solar trees to charge their smart phones (up to 1 million times each year) or charge their electric vehicles (up to 15,000 miles per year), but they can also scan the QR code on the solar tree to discover what other solar programs OUC offers.
“The solar tree absolutely makes solar energy—and it does a good job of that—but it also communicates a very important message about solar commitment,” said Merrigan. Visit Spotlight Solar in booth 4449.