Solar panels shine with large monetary and energy savings

Mary Winnick

Nearly a year after Redwood installed solar panels in the front parking lot, the system is showing signs of a promising future. Although the school is not yet profiting from the solar energy, they expect to in roughly a decade.

David O’Connor, Director of Maintenance and Operations at the Tamalpais Union District Office, said the solar panels have offset 85 percent of the energy costs Redwood used to pay before installing solar panels. The energy produced from the solar panels has an annual value of $252,000 per year.

“The benefit to the district is long-term utility reduction which off-sets and frees up general fund payments that can be used for other things in the district,” said Patrick Dalton, NorCal Operations Manager for SunPower Corporation.

However, the solar panels have also experienced multiple malfunctions in their first year.

There were two occasions last year in which rain water intrusion caused short circuits in the combiner for several months, but both were repaired.

“We install thousands of these [with] this type of set up. It was just a mishap on the construction side,” Dalton said.solarprint_15877596_7173e3343d8d87deb796f7e1249dcdae49a8c83f (1)

Since the mishap, SunPower Corp. has changed the layout of the inverter combiner for all new solar panels to prevent it from happening again.

“We put in place closed-loop learning internally to make sure that there is a double check on all these items moving forward,” Dalton said.

There are roughly 17 solar panel converters which convert the sunlight’s direct current and turn it into energy. Each converter has roughly 90 panels connected to it for a total of 1,620 panels. Each panel can create a maximum of 435 watts.

“By and large I would say about 98 percent of the panels have been fully functional,” O’Connor said.

Despite the fact that there was less sunlight last year than the school expected, the panels are still producing more energy than the 1,150,000 kilowatt-hours SunPower Corp. projected before the panels began functioning.

Although Drake High School originally wanted solar panels at their school, there is not enough sunlight for the panels to collect to produce enough energy. Likewise, Tamalpais High School does not have enough space in their parking lot to build the solar panels.

“Redwood gave us the best opportunity for area, as well as the climate here is ideal,” O’Connor said. “The larger you can make the system [more] the unit prices reduce, so it becomes less expensive the bigger you make it.”

O’Connor says the district does not plan on adding more solar panels to Redwood, but hopes to find other ways to reduce the school’s carbon footprint. Not only have the solar panels saved energy, but they have also eliminated 600 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year.

Overall, O’Connor is excited about the progress the solar panels have made.

“It demonstrates that the school district is interested in developing environmentally friendly systems that reduce our carbon footprint,” O’Connor said.