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UA Solar System Reduces Costs, Enhances Curriculum

A 10-kilowatt solar installation on a University of Arizona science building will do more than lower the energy bill.

The system, installed in September on the roof of the conference center at earth sciences facility Biosphere 2, will complement the curriculum in some university classes. Computer science and geology classes are already using the solar panels in coursework, said Biosphere 2 sustainability coordinator Nate Allen, who spearheaded the project.

Computer science classes are studying how the energy produced by the solar panel system, installed by Tuscon, AZ-headquartered Solon, interacts with the rest of the power grid as part of the model city research program, Allen said. The program delves into smart grid and infrastructure technologies.

Just last week, another application for the solar panels was discovered. Geology students are using a 3-D laser scanner--typically used to measure topographical erosion--to look at how water flows off the conference center's roof.

"There are questions about solar panels affecting a roof," Allen said. "It's a tool we had and we're applying to an industry. It's one of those side things we didn't plan on when we did the install."

The system uses Solquick panels, a new technology from Solon that provides frameless solar modules that don't require tools for installation, as part of a pilot program and will monitor the panels for one year to collect data and to make sure all the design functions work, according to a press release. The Solquick installation at Biosphere 2 was Solon's first, Allen said.

Going along with the rooftop installation, a display on the solar energy industry and the challenges it faces will greet visitors at the Biosphere 2 conference center.

Cost is one challenge, said Allen, who worked as a professional solar panel installer until 2008. He opted to work with Solon because the Solquick system is meant to tackle the price issue head-on.

The cost of Solquick components is comparable to a standard metal rack and module, but can be installed in 85 percent less time, generating savings, said David Goldman, Solon's vice president and general manager for solar products. The local contractor who installed the Solquick system was able to lay out the panels in one hour, and do the remaining electrical work in a few more, Allen said.

The system ships directly to the project site with the laminate and racking, and weighs less than 2.8 pounds per square foot, according to a press release.

More information is available at solon.com.

About the Author

Jessica DiNapoli is a finance and technology reporter based in Westhampton Beach, NY. She can be reached at jessica.dinapoli@gmail.com.

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