Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

Innovative solar array planned

M.U.M. installation will include battery backup, panels that follow the sun
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | May 04, 2018
Source: IMAGE COURTESY OF AMY VAN BEEK This image shows a rendering of a 5-acre solar array, near the top of the photo, planned for the northwest edge of the campus of Maharishi University of Management. The array will be north of the Gateridge Building, seen in the bottom left.

Maharishi University of Management will soon be home to one of Iowa’s largest solar arrays.

The 1.1 megawatt array – over 200 times the size of a typical residential array – will cover 5 acres of land adjacent to campus. The project also includes a 1 megawatt-hour battery energy storage system – the largest system of its kind in the Midwest, according to a news release from Ideal Energy, the company designing and building the array.

Construction has already begun and is expected to last through September.

Amy Van Beek, co-founder of Ideal Energy, said federal tax credits made the project possible by covering 30 percent of the cost of installation.


Step toward carbon neutrality

Tom Brooks, vice president of operations at M.U.M., said the array will be north of the Gateridge Building west of the northern edge of campus.

The array is so large it alone will supply one-third of the university’s energy needs. Thanks to the new array, two existing arrays and a wind turbine, 43 percent of M.U.M.’s electricity will come from renewable sources.

“Our goal has always been to move campus toward carbon neutrality,” Brooks said.

Past and present M.U.M. presidents, Bevan Morris and John Hagelin, respectively, have supported and signed the University President Climate Initiative and Paris Climate Initiative with the intention of moving M.U.M. to become a carbon-neutral campus.


Special battery

The solar array comes with a battery energy storage system. It can be used for emergency backup or for off-grid homes, but its most valuable feature for M.U.M. will be shaving energy during peak times.

The battery cuts expensive demand charges by reducing electricity consumption during peak usage times like hot summer days. Demand charges can increase a customer’s electrical costs for the entire year. For customers on demand charge utility tariffs, between 30-70 percent of the utility bill can be made up of demand charges, according to Ideal Energy.

Battery energy storage systems automatically detect when power usage exceeds a pre-programmed threshold and switch from the grid to the batteries until the extra demand is over. When demand is lower the batteries recharge.

The news release from Ideal Energy said this battery storage system is among the most innovative and sophisticated systems available. It uses vanadium flow batteries which, unlike lithium ion batteries, degrade little over time, as little as 2 percent in 25 years.

Van Beek said batteries are used often on the coasts where electricity rates are higher, but they’re just now making their way inland.

“National Renewable Energy Lab ranked Iowa in the Top 10 of states that could benefit from energy storage,” Van Beek said. “That’s because we have high demand charge rates throughout the state.”

The primary beneficiaries of batteries are customers who use huge bursts of energy in the summer, such as a university that must pay for many buildings to be air conditioned.


Active tracking

Another sophisticated design element incorporated into the new array is active tracking, the ability of a solar panel to rotate so it faces the sun as it moves across the sky. Active tracking yields 20-25 percent more energy than a fixed tilt array.

This particular active tracking system is advanced in that each row of solar panels has its own motor and sensors that find the best angle for energy absorption.

“The M.U.M. array will be the first system in the Midwest to combine active tracking and battery energy storage on a large scale,” noted the news release.

Van Beek said active tracking is expensive, but because this array is so large, it is able to recoup the savings from a 20-25 percent boost to efficiency.

“This is really exciting for Fairfield, because solar energy with battery storage is making its debut in the Midwest,” she said. “The university is working on arrangements to have lookout points on sections of the trail near the array. It will be a cool spot where you can take in the magnitude of the project.”



The array will be owned by a company called Iowa Integrated Solar. Its president, Tom Factor, is a university trustee and has been in the renewable energy business 25 years building windfarms.

“I looked at the university’s budget needs and saw that solar was a better fit than wind,” he said. “As a trustee, I was trying to see a way of doing business while also helping the university reduce its electric bills.”

Factor mentioned that the new array will be a great source for research projects into solar energy.

“We have a sustainable living degree and a sustainable business MBA. They’ll both research it,” he said. “This is the largest array in Iowa with a 1 megawatt battery component. That’s why it’s worthy of research.”

Iowa Integrated Solar will own the array at least five years, and has agreed to sell power to the university for up to 25 years. Factor said the company might sell the array to the university after 5-10 years.

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