January 2005

FSEC Assists Maryland Environmental Education Facility with New Photovoltaic System

Staff members in FSEC’s PVDG Division recently played key roles in the design, installation and monitoring of a new photovoltaic system at a unique environmental educational facility located 10 miles south of Washington, D.C. The system is powering a residential-based overnight education building that thousands of students, teachers and parents visit annually.

Photovoltaic system
A 12-kW photovoltaic system powers an education building at the environmental facility in Maryland.
(Photo credit: Jim Dunlop)

The facility is operated by the Alice Ferguson Foundation, a nonprofit education organization based at the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center. The 330-acre working farm, located along the Potomac River In Accokeek, Maryland. serves more than 10,000 students from the D.C. area annually at the farm and regional National Parks. Students and their teachers spend a day or more learning about the natural environment, farming and the cultural heritage of the Potomac River watershed in a variety of educational programs, science camps and special events. The foundation has won a number of awards over the years for their environmental education programs.

In mid-November, FSEC staff members Jim Dunlop and Donard Metzger completed acceptance tests and installed data acquisition equipment for a 12-kWp interactive PV system that will provide an estimated 75 percent of the energy needs for the farm’s Wareham Lodge. At the October 28 system dedication and ceremonies celebrating the Foundation’s 50th anniversary, Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer noted that the new system “will be one of the largest solar electrical systems in Maryland, and will offset over 1,000,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime.” The Foundation is also installing solar powered lighting for the parking lot surrounding the Wareham Lodge.

According to Tracy Bowen, executive director of the foundation, “Using solar energy as a demonstration of sustainable practices is something that our organization was committed to and wanted, but actually doing it was intimidating. It was through the technical expertise of Jim Dunlop and staff at the Florida Solar Energy Center that we were able to implement this major project. As a result of FSEC's efforts, thousands of children and visitors will have their first hands-on exposure to solar energy."

FSEC worked with the foundation staff in conducting site surveys and developing project bid specifications, facilitating meetings with the local utility and code officials on installation and interconnection matters, helping review bids and selecting a contractor, conducting final acceptance for the PV system, and installation of data monitoring equipment.

Photovoltaic array

The system includes a BP Solar Array
and Fronius inverters.
(Photo credit: Jim Dunlop)

The system, which was installed by Aurora Energy, LLC, of Annapolis, Maryland, includes a BP Solar array with model 3125S polycrystalline modules. Fronius IG3000 inverters are used for each of the four sub-arrays, and are connected to an independent panel tied into the electrical distribution system and dedicated metering at the lodge. The system’s performance data and building load are being recorded and downloaded to FSEC servers on a daily basis, and the data is available to the foundation staff, teachers and students on a special website. This data also feeds a PV systems performance and reliability database - an important part of DOE’s PV systems benchmarking initiative.

"Incorporating solar energy into our operations and educational program has been great not only for our students but also for our staff and for the local electrical cooperative," Bowen added. "Jim was very skillful at pulling together the core stakeholders necessary to complete the project, including Southern Maryland Electrical Cooperative and the county electrical engineers and permitting staff. We were fortunate to receive strong financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Maryland Energy Administration, Solar Schools Foundation, and Southern Maryland Electrical Cooperative for this new solar system."

Bowen noted that designing this system posed some very unique challenges, including trees, cows and kids. “Rather than placing the system on the roof of the lodge where we have limited sunlight due to trees, “ she said, “it needed to be placed in an open pasture near the building. FSEC had to design a system that could tolerate herds of large and very curious beef cattle who are likely going to use the system as a scratch post. The Foundation also wanted to make the system accessible and user-friendly for the herds of small but very curious children who would be visiting and utilizing the system, and FSEC was able achieve these goals in their design."

Find out more about the Alice Ferguson Foundation and Hard Bargain Farm at www.fergusonfoundation.org/.