Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Weather a factor with solar power generation

The town has wrapped up two full years of solar power generations with panel installations at four sites.
But while they continue to generate revenue, forecasting performance year-to-year is as difficult as predicting the weather.

Travis Rob, Chief Building Official and facilities/special projects co-ordinator for the town, said that given the variation between 2013 and 2012, “it’s easy to see no two years will be the same.”
In total, energy generation at the four sites—Memorial Sports Centre, Public Works building, Fort Frances Children’s Complex, and water treatment plant—generated about 52 megawatt hours last year, equalling $46,814 in revenue.
This is somewhat less than in 2012, when they generated about 57 megawatt hours equalling $50,545 in revenue.
Rob noted that in the past two years, the town has seen a great deal of variation in weather conditions, snow accumulation, and types of snow cover.
For example, during the summer months of 2013, Fort Frances saw less sunshine than usual while last winter saw frequent snowfalls and large amounts of snow accumulate.
“As we go ahead, I have the ability to go online and see a lot of data about how our panels are doing, right down to what each individual panel is generating at any given time of any given day,” Rob explained.
“So as we’re seeing some differences in weather—sunny periods, cloudy periods—we’re starting to be able to see how that affects the panels; heavy cloud cover versus light cloud cover and how that’s going to affect what the generation is for that day, summer or winter,” he added.
Rob is beginning to be able to monitor trends in the solar power generation here, but admitted the seasons have been “atypical.”
“Last winter, we had a huge amount of snow so we expended a huge amount of effort just trying to keep the panels clean,” he recalled.
“It seemed like every week we were shovelling off a foot of snow. That makes it very difficult.
“This winter, we’re experiencing a lot of sunny days and a lot of cold temperatures, which is great for generation for the winter time,” Rob noted.
“But I guess the flip side is when we do get snow, it takes so long for us to get up and clean it because it’s so cold.
“When there is a wind chill advisory, the last thing you want to do is go climb up on a rooftop,” he remarked.
“There’s always something, it seems, that you’re contending with, or looking at how it’s going to affect your generation.”
Rob said 2014 is off to a good start with light precipitation (snowfall) and quite a few sunny days so far.
But since most generation happens during the summer months, it’s too soon to predict what the year will be like power generation-wise.
The only non-weather related issues seen with the panels and associated systems were an online monitoring issue at the Children’s Complex, which required a change in settings at the site, and a tripped breaker at the Public Works garage.
The solar panels at the four sites generate revenue through the feed-in tariff (FIT) program under the Ontario Green Energy Act, which guarantees specific rates for energy generation from renewable sources paid by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA).
Back in 2011, the town signed a contract with the OPA, where the town is guaranteed 80.2 cents per kW/h produced for the next 20 years. The panels are expected to pay for themselves within 10 years, said Rob.
The one at the water treatment plant was a project in the town’s capital budget a couple of years ago, and already is paid for, with revenue going to the water budget, he added.
The panels initially cost $375,000, with an estimated generation of $49,000 worth of power per year.

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