Mount Union to have state's largest thin film solar system

September 30, 2009

Mount Union College has a new claim to fame.

Over the next few weeks, the 163-year-old institution of higher learning will become the home of the largest application of thin film laminate solar voltaic array in Ohio.

A couple of the solar panels were in place Monday afternoon for a tour by area business leaders. The blue strips will eventually cover a majority of the south facing roof of the Peterson Fieldhouse and will be visible from State Street.

“We tried to get them in purple,” joked Blaine Lewis, the director of physical plant at Mount Union. “But they only come in blue.”

Lewis noted a total of 230 feet of the fieldhouse roof will be covered by the solar panels, which are manufactured by Uni-Solar in Detroit and are being installed by Commercial Siding and Maintenance of Painesville. However, passers-by may not even recognize the new roof as being covered in solar panels.

Each panel measures 18 feet long and 15.5 inches wide. A panel is less than an eighth of an inch thick and is fastened to the metal roof with an adhesive.

Each of the panels will produce 136 watts. Overall, they will make up a 54-kilowatt system and will produce enough energy to power seven average-sized houses for one year, according to Jason Watts of Sheffield Metals, which is the supplier of the roofing materials and solar panels.

“They don’t look anything like the traditional or crystalline solar panels we’re used to seeing,” said Watts, noting the largest application of the traditional system in Ohio is located in downtown Akron. “But the technology really isn’t that new. It’s been around since 1983, but over the last several years, we’ve been seeing it implemented more into larger-scale projects like the one at Mount Union.”

Advantages of the thin film laminate system include weight and ease of installation, according to Watts.

“A traditional solar panel would put 2.5 to 3 pounds per square foot on top of a roof,” explained Watts. “The laminate puts 0.7 pounds of pressure per square foot on a roof and it is a building-integrated material, meaning we don’t have to cut into the roof to install them.”

The panels will also produce energy from dawn to dusk and are still over 80 percent efficient with as much as 2 inches of snow covering them.

Lewis said the college’s biology department will track the daily output of the solar panels.

The project is part of the $17.5 million renovation to the McPherson Academic and Athletic Complex (MAAC). It was made possible through an anonymous investor and grants which are available due to the initiative to have 25 percent of the state’s power be generated through renewable energy sources by 2025.

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