The renewable energy market is growing faster than ever before and evidence of that growth is all around us. From a growing number of ground-mounted systems on Nebraska farms to rooftop systems for homes and businesses, solar power is changing the energy landscape. Even people who would never call themselves environmentalists are embracing the technology because it now makes sound financial sense. That is not to imply that environmentally conscious individuals are lagging behind, quite the contrary. Broader acceptance has permitted institutions to take advantage of the benefits of a solar array without fear of political backlash or making what might be viewed as an activist statement.
Following completion of the largest privately owned rooftop solar project in the state, SWT Energy is hard at work installing a unique ground mount system at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. The system is comprised of eighty, 300w thin-film, bifacial solar panels mounted to a robust, steel canopy at the East end of the zoo. In addition to generating more than 36,000 kWh per year, it provides much needed shade for the waiting area at the newly reopened sky-safari ride.
After many months of planning SWT began installation of the system with the help of Stark and Son’s Construction and K-Electric of Omaha. Mike Stark led the effort to assemble the steel canopy designed and manufactured by Solar Structures in Michigan. Once the canopy was in place, SWT Energy began the delicate process of installing each 300w thin-film, bifacial solar panel. The dramatic appearance of the panels comes in part from their lack of a traditional aluminum frame, which makes them susceptible to damage if mishandled.
Jared Friesen of Morrissey Engineering had the task of selecting many of the components that make up the system in cooperation with SWT’s own, Randy Schantell. Together they selected a new bifacial solar panel from Sunpreme tied to a single Fronius inverter. The use of these unique panels makes for a visually striking installation that collects energy from above and beneath the collector. Plus, the system allows some light to pass through, enabling zoo staff to further beautify the installation with plants and bushes under the array. The combined effect is a solar canopy which more than meets the energy requirements for the surrounding exhibits as well as features design elements consistent with the rest of the African theme for the area.
Funding for the installation came in large part from a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust. Having sufficient backing to allow for a more dynamic and visually striking installation was key to recreating the type of burly steel frame used to construct similar structures in Africa. In addition to providing a robust, industrial look, the structure is able to withstand significant wind and snow loads so often experienced in Nebraska.
Ultimately, this 24kW installation is a 'drop in the bucket' for the overall consumption at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. However it does far more than produce enough electricity to power the Lion viewing area, restrooms, exhibits and lighting on the East end of the zoo. This installation represents significant progress for broader acceptance and utilization of solar power. Look for more prominent installations from SWT Energy in the coming months; there's never been a better time to go solar!