Lessons From Solar: Solar Project Reaches 5 Years of Operation
By Courtney J. Deinert
Just south of the Central Electric headquarters, visitors have had the opportunity to explore a ground-mount solar array over the previous five years.
Central Prairie Solar was installed in July 2015 by Central Electric employees. It consists of 36 panels facing north and south with a maximum system output of 8,000 watts (8 kW) AC power per hour. Projected generation of the system was 1,400 kwh per month.
According to Manager of Member Services/Marketing Patrick Soukup, the solar array has produced an average of 80% of its projected production over the last two years.
The data gained from the project has helped Central Electric advise members on their own solar inquiries. When a member reaches out and inquires about solar, Soukup passes along several lessons:
Size your system appropriately. The size of your system depends heavily on when you use electricity in addition to how much electricity you use. For the traditional household, family members use the most electricity in the morning and evening. However, solar arrays reach maximum production in the middle of the day. Deciding whether to invest in batteries or sell power back to the utility can also impact project size.
Keep your electric cooperative in the conversation. Any member generating power that feeds back onto Central Electric’s system requires a signed agreement. Additionally, Soukup can help you understand how your electric bill would change.
Contact your local officials. Solar installation can impact taxes, property value, and may require certain permits. Check your local requirements.
Work with a reputable company. Although Central Prairie Solar was manufactured with a warranty, the company has since gone bankrupt. While solar is here to stay, the technology and industry are still rapidly changing. Make sure you work with a certified company that will support you after installation.
Installing solar should only be done after energy efficiency upgrades. Focusing on energy efficient improvements such as insulation, sealing leaks, efficient appliances, and updated lighting will produce a quicker return on investment than solar alone. Additionally, it would maximize the impact that solar generation has on your usage and electric bill.
For individualized advice on how solar would work for you, contact our office. Your cooperative exists to serve its member-owners and will give you advice with your best interests in mind.