How long will it take until the project is completed?
The solar facility is expected to be complete and operational in early 2017. We’ll have a more definite schedule very soon, but right now we are still working with Duke Energy on finalizing a few design details that will impact the schedule. I expect that the system installation will begin in a significant way by late November. Over the next few weeks, we’ll install the perimeter fence and plant grass in the area that has been cleared along Poinsett Highway.
How will the system work?
A solar panel is made up many photovoltaic (PV) cells which are designed to convert light energy into electricity. Each photovoltaic cell is basically a sandwich made up of two slices of semi-conducting material, usually silicon. The light energy—photons—that are absorbed by the panels knock electrons free from their associated atoms and an electricity flow is generated. Solar panels typically generate up to 340 watts of power and are strung together to form large solar arrays or systems such as the one being installed at Furman. Our system will be comprised of approximately 3,000 solar panels.
Will the system feed directly into Furman’s grid?
Yes, sleeves will be horizontally bored beneath Poinsett Highway so that power cables from the system can be connected directly to Furman’s electrical system. The power generated from the system will be fully utilized on campus largely because of the size of the system relative to the power that Furman consumes. At peak, the new system will generate 748 KW of power. Furman, at any given time, consumes at least 3,500 KW of power.
What sort of energy savings will the university see from the solar installation?
The system will produce approximately 1,469,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year. This amount will vary somewhat based on the actual number of hours of sunlight but this does not vary as much you might think. Whatever the system produces is the same amount of power that Furman will not have to buy from Duke Energy. That amount is expected to at least be $88,000 each year. As electricity rates increase, the amount of the savings to Furman will increase. The capital that Furman is investing in the system will be paid back over time from the energy savings and this is expected to take about eight years. The useful life of the system is 25 to 30 years.
Will this be among the biggest solar projects in South Carolina?
Yes, this system will certainly be one of the largest in the state, with the largest being the 2,600 KW system installed on the roof of Boeing in Charleston. Furman is definitely a leader in both the state and the region in term of our sustainability programs and our use of renewable energy systems. Our first solar thermal panels were installed on campus way back in the 1980s and they are still in use today. We have been progressively leading the way since that time with solar installations at Townes Science Center, the Shi Center and the roof of the Physical Activities Center. In addition, the geothermal system that we installed at North Village is among the largest in the region.
Will the new solar facility also serve as an educational tool for Furman students?
Yes, there will be many opportunities for the system to be used for educational purposes. A significant amount of real time data will be produced on the system output and operating parameters, which could be used to study both the technical and business aspects of the project over time.