Albany UU became a solar power generation site on February 1, 2013. A system whose main components are 112 solar photovoltaic panels installed on roof tops of two church buildings and two inverters installed in a basement became operational on that date. The inverter components convert the direct current (DC) power produced by the panels to alternating current (AC) compatible with existing building lighting, air conditioning, and other electricity uses. Peak instantaneous power generation of the system is 25,000 watts, or 25 kilowatts (kW), and energy production is about 25,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year, which is about 35% of the electrical energy typically used by the church during the year.
The solar system is owned and operated by a private company that sells generated power to the church, acting much as a (mini) electrical utility company. The contract between Albany UU and the company, called a Power Purchase Agreement, required essentially zero initial investment by the church, and it is expected to save it roughly $40,000 over the 20 year contract term. Since the solar system generates power only when the sun is shining and has no batteries or other electrical storage capability, the church continues to receive power from “the grid”—in this case via local utility company National Grid—whenever the solar system is not meeting needs. At times when the solar system is producing more power than needed, the excess flows into the grid, “spinning the meter backwards,” resulting in a credit with National Grid.
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Maybe you have questions, such as Why a Power Purchase Agreement, rather than outright purchase or leasing? What process did we go through to select a company and reach an agreement? Were externalities like the environmental impact of panel manufacturing considered? What would we do differently if starting the process today? For some answers, see Albany UU’s Solar Power System, a report authored by Steve Andersen and David Musser, who served as co-chairs of the subcommittee established by our Green Sanctuary to evaluate proposals for such a system.