Did you know that–in one way or another–all of the energy that we use (except nuclear) ultimately comes from the sun? Solar, wind, carbon-based, and hydro all depend on the sun’s light, heat and energy. Therefore, we are always looking for the best ways to convert the sun’s rays into usable energy. One exciting way is to convert the sun’s rays directly into electricity—and that’s exactly what Solar 1 does.
To capture the sun’s energy, Solar 1 is equipped with 3.5 kW of south facing photovoltaic panels (photo meaning light, and voltaic meaning electricity). But these panels aren’t just thrown on the roof. Instead, Solar1 uses a technique called Passive Solar Design to work with the panels. The roof is angled very specifically to help maximize the gathered energy from the sun. The building is also oriented to maximize its natural heat intake during the winter and minimize its heat intake during the summer. But how do we do that?
First, you’ll notice that the building has a 40 degree angled roof toward the south. This important because when the Earth makes its daily rotation, the sun provides most direct sunlight on the south side since we are north of the equator. The overhang of the roof creates an awning to the south windows to block direct mid-day summer sun while also increasing solar array exposure –win win! Then, when the sun is lower in the sky during the winter, it shines light through the low windows while also heating up the building naturally. These design techniques help the building use less lighting, heating and cooling while also maximizing energy gain from the PVs.
The electricity from the panels goes to an array of lead-acid deep cycle batteries that store charge for consistent voltage.These are the types of batteries that would be used on a boat or RV. It is recommended to avoid running devices directly off of PV panels, and using batteries as an intermediary since the sun can dip behind coulds. The battery array can store charge to be used in the morning or evening, and on cloudy days.
Although all these solar arrays and design techniques once made the building ‘Net-Zero’, the building is now packed with staff and is unfortunately no longer ‘Net-Zero’ because of the extra electricity usage. Nevertheless, one can be happy to know that a great percentage of the electricity used for the building and Solar One events come from the solar panels and are 100% natural energy from the sun.
Next week, we will be talking about the structural components of Solar 1 and how its construction was some of the first of its kind. Stay tuned!