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SAS turns on solar power 'farm'

Posted December 17, 2008
Updated December 18, 2008

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— North Carolina’s mandated march toward using more renewable energy supplies made a small but significant step forward this week.

Despite often cloudy and rainy weather, SAS literally turned on the five-acre solar panel built at its Cary campus and began feeding power to the Progress Energy grid. Progress is buying the energy, but neither company is disclosing the price.

The solar “farm,” which is a collection of panels that capture sunlight and convert its energy to electrical power, is the first Progress has brought online.

State law requires Progress and other utilities to begin producing power from renewable sources. Progress Energy is exploring solar, wind, biowaste and other options to produce power from renewable sources. By 2012, companies have to get 3.5 percent of all retail sales from so-called renewables. The requirement  jumps to 12.5 percent by 2021.

Duke Energy is also involved in numerous solar and wind projects.

Another solar farm is being built in Wilmington, and scores of others are under consideration, according to Progress.

“This is a huge milestone,” said Progress spokesperson Mike Hughes. “We truly need a 100 projects like it or to build on this and get even larger projects.”

The photovoltaic site, built by SunPower Corp., has a capacity of 1 megawatt and is expected to produce 1.7 million kilowatt-hours of power a year. That’s enough to provide electricity for a little over 100 homes, based on the average customer use of 14,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, Hughes said.

In the grand scheme of power generation, the SAS project is minuscule. Currently, Progress has 12,400 megawatts of conventional generating capacity in the Carolinas alone.

The solar panels are able to track the sun, but they are expected to produce power for 16 to 20 percent of each day, he added. SunPower built a similar site in New Jersey.

Regardless of size or capacity, SAS Chief Executive Officer Jim Goodnight hailed the sight’s official generation of power.

“In less than a year, this plan went from idea to reality,” he said in a statement. “I hope people will learn from our experience that sustainable energy is within reach and makes bottom-line business sense.”

SAS recently announced plans for a new office building that will be designed to save energy. The company also plans other campus upgrades to reduce energy use.

The world’s largest privately held software company has not allowed visitors to the solar farm and also declined to allow photographs.

“Sorry, the site is not going to be available for public viewing for a few weeks,” SAS spokesperson Dave Thomas said. “I know that seems odd considering that we issued a release, but we just want to have it presentable before we bring people out.”

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  • jockeyshiftspringer Dec 19, 2008

    slugolicious said: "if we have an outer space solar farm. It can collect 24/7."

    So how does the power get back down here to the ground, a big old cable hanging down from the "solar farm"? Osmosis? Telekinesis? Please don't tell me they have wireless or infrared electricity now.

  • slugolicious Dec 19, 2008

    "Kinda cloudy today to be starting a solar cell generator, huh?"

    Is there such a thing as a UV cell rather than a solar cell? You get UV's even on cloudy days (you can get sunburned on cloudy days, although not as quickly).

    "solar shingles" was mentioned a couple times. That's a cool idea. I'd imagine they wouldn't be as bulky (or ugly) as solar panels on the roof.

    "coal is plentiful and very cheap"

    Define "plentiful". Maybe plentiful for our generation or the next, but certainly not renewable. The sun, on the other hand, is renewable. The sun won't last forever (but probably longer than our species has to worry about it) but harnessing it's power doesn't take anything away from the sun (as far as we know). When you use coal, it's gone. When you use solar, it comes back the next day. In fact, we don't have to wait for the next day if we have an outer space solar farm. It can collect 24/7.

  • slugolicious Dec 19, 2008

    "Putting these on a roof of a building is one thing. Knocking down a stand of trees to make room for this is quite another."

    The solar farm was built on an "empty" field, with regards to trees. There were other plants - scrubby field weeds and such - but who cares about those except the animals that feed on them?

    Putting them on the roof is probably a better idea than destroying field of scrubby field weeds, although you'd need 217,800 square feet of rooftop. Using google aerial maps, an average SAS building rooftop is about 130ft x 70ft = 9100sf, so they'd need 24 buildings to cover 5 acres.

    The article said "SAS recently announced plans for a new office building that will be designed to save energy". That might be a LEED certified building and might have solar panels on it.

  • slugolicious Dec 19, 2008

    "People need to learn that right now, solar is a very inefficient method to generate electricity. I agree completely that renewable resources are better than nonrenewable resources, but the technology just isn't there."

    And how does the technology get there if no one builds solar farms? Experimental lab work only goes so far. Building a solar farm probably helps advance the technology tremendously. You just need someone willing to lose money for the sake of improving the technology.

    "Just an interesting number, if 5 acres generates 1 megawatt then we need 62,500 acres (or 5%) of all land in North Carolina to match just Progress Energy's North Carolina power generating capability."

    Those numbers are using today's technology. Assuming the technology advances and becomes more efficient, it'll probably take less room. Look at computers 40 years ago that took up rooms and now I can have a mobile device more powerful than that in my pocket.

  • mpheels Dec 18, 2008

    One of the big problems with the anti-solar arguments is that they are often based on the misunderstanding that we're expecting solar energy to provide 100% of our needs. Solar is only part of the puzzle. It's is very possible that within the next few years all new homes will have solar shingles and ratnix says. That will provide for a decent portion of home energy needs, but certainly not all. We also need to utilize other sources like solar farms already cleared but otherwise unused land (like SAS did). We need to start using wind power, I dream of seeing small, sturdy, but inexpensive (easy to replace) turbines in the medians of interstates to collect energy from the wind generated by traffic. Hydro power is more troublesome as it can damage wildlife habitats, but careful use will provide even more...

  • jockeyshiftspringer Dec 18, 2008

    blackdog said: "SAS is one of the most sucessful companies on the planet."

    batcave said: "SAS and Goodnight seem to do everything the right way."

    There is a big reason for this, they are a privately held company. They are not a public company that gets milked like a cow.

  • blackdog Dec 17, 2008

    ...right now...solar is clean and coal is not. After the solar system is paid for, all of its output is free or either you are apid for it. You will still have to mine coal to make the coal furnaces work. The sun on the other hand is free.

  • NC Reader Dec 17, 2008

    Riddickfield -- I'm not positive about this, but I think they are located on former pastureland, where no trees had to be cut down.

  • Trivr Dec 17, 2008

    What about clean coal? Why do people seem so willing to spend billions on an unproven, inefficient, power source when coal is plentiful and very cheap? Let's just make it clean burning.

  • ratnix Dec 17, 2008

    "Solar is NOT the future unless ALL homes have their entire roof covered in solar panels. And we all know that's not gonna happen."

    Why can I imagine this same voice many years ago, "running water to all the homes! Pah! Knave, fetch me my cane that I may wave it around! And get those kids off my lawn!"

    It's all about the demand, and mostly the price point. If price per watt falls, and there's a safe infrastructure for each house generating, and the desire for it to be a common good continues, then sure, it'll happen.

    I can absolutely see small developments (well, after the bubble fully deflates) with houses that all have solar shingles. And that steamrolling to others.

    Not overnight, but easily in our lifetimes.

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