UVA expands its solar array
“The data science project is very small, as the surface area suitable for solar energy is small,” said Satish Anabatula, associate director of energy and light at UVA Energy and Utilities.
The university has contracted with Tiger Solar to install a 208.12 kilowatt system on the Old Ivy Road structure, which will provide approximately 27% of the building’s electrical consumption. The roof-mounted panels feed directly into the building, using an inverter to translate direct current into usable alternating current. Each solar panel contains 72 cells that convert solar energy into electricity. Solar and Dominion Energy-generated power feed the building’s electricity needs.
“Think of it as a bucket of water being filled from two faucets, the larger faucet from the utilities and the smaller faucet from the building’s solar array, and you draw water from the bucket,” Anapathula said. “The way most of our buildings operate, most of the burden is on heating and cooling the building, as well as the computers and servers, so the buildings never lose power.”
The buildings have meters that constantly monitor the amount of electricity coming from the utility and the solar array, as well as the amount of electricity being used in the building. When the solar array provides enough energy to meet the building’s demands, the meter turns off the feed from the utility; Any excess electricity you generate is sent to the electrical grid and the meter runs backwards.
“If we don’t use it, we will put it back in the network,” Anapathula said. “But very few times do we cycle our utility meter backwards. Our electric bill is based on a month’s period, so if the meter cycles forward five days of the week and only cycles backwards a few days in a month’s period, we’re still consuming. Technically, We don’t sell anything back to the network, we just reduce the bill.
The discount per unit is less than what the university pays.
“If we buy electricity at 10 cents per unit, about 4 or 5 cents of that is the cost of production,” Anapathula said. “The other five or six cents is distribution and maintenance and all the costs associated with it. When you overproduce and sell the units back to the power company, they won’t pay you 10 cents, which they charge you for usage, they’ll pay you 4 or 5 cents.”
Annapathula said the Old Ivy Road facilities should break even within nine years, not taking into account the increase in electricity prices, which would speed up the recovery process. Recent changes in the law have now made purchasing solar panels more profitable for the university. Homeowners were able to get a tax deduction on their solar panel purchases, but the university was not.
“As a government entity, UVA does not pay taxes,” Annabatula said. “We couldn’t get the deduction that was available to homeowners and private businesses. But with the federal inflation control law, this deduction became available even to businesses like us that don’t pay taxes.
The basic discount is 30%, but if the university purchases American-made solar panels, the discount is increased to 40%. The university gets its panels from Mission Solar Energy in San Antonio.