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Fire & Ice: Solar Panels Energize Arena

BGSU has taken its first step toward renewable energy with the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Ice Arena. The project is a partnership between the University and Bowling Green municipal utilities. It has been nurtured along by the strong working relationship between utilities director Daryl Stockburger and Donald Scherer, professor emeritus of philosophy and a longtime proponent of ?green? energy.

The utility is paying for the panels through its Green Power Program. Utility customers may opt to pay up to a 1.38 kilowatt-hours surcharge on their electric bills to help the utility invest in renewable energy. About 3 percent of the city?s residents have chosen to participate. Their dollars have helped fund such projects as the wind turbines on U.S. 6. Another source of funding comes from ?Green Tags? that citizens statewide may purchase under an agreement between American Municipal Power-Ohio and Green Mountain Energy, which helps offset the higher initial cost of providing green energy. The utility also received a $35,000 reimbursement grant from the Ohio Department of Development?s Office of Energy Efficiency for the University partnership project.

The solar panels, located on the eastern side of the middle of the arena?s roof, will produce 31 kilowatts of energy per hour on a sunny day. When they are operational in mid-September, BGSU will have the second largest array in Ohio, and the energy they produce will be ?on the grid? for use in Bowling Green and across the continent, according to Scherer.

"We're taking a phased-in approach," said Stockburger. ?I?d like to add another 10 kwh of photovoltaic energy a year. It?s part of our plan for diversifying our power supply.?

The Ice A rena is a particularly good spot to utilize solar energy because it consumes so much power to keep the facility cold, especially in the summer months when both overall demand and costs are highest. ?The solar panels fit perfectly into that niche because they?re offsetting our most expensive power just when they?re at the peak of their production,? Stockburger said.

The new panels, produced by FirstSolar, are being installed by John Witte, a certified solar installer with Advanced Distributive Generation in Maumee. Tim Burns, senior project manager in the Office of Design and Construction, is overseeing the job.

The new panels will be featured in northwest Ohio?s Solar Energy Tour on Oct. 2, along with other area sites of renewable energy including the wind turbines. Jessica Belcher, an environmental policy major, planned the regional tour through an environmental studies internship.

?There?s the potential for a lot of technologies to be tested,? Stockburger said of the project, which has also drawn the attention of other renewable-energy companies. Ballard Power Systems of Vancouver, Canada, is donating for two years an advanced, 30 kwh inverter, the ?Ecostar Inverter,? which will change the direct current produced by solar energy into the alternating current required to power lights and motors. In return, BGSU will allow the company to remotely monitor the equipment. The company?s head engineer will be in Bowling Green Friday (Sept. 10) for a test run.

The first thing the panels will power directly will be the fluorescent lights in the eastern third of the Hall of Fame area of the arena. The University is also testing a special ballast from Nex-Tek designed to allow more efficient use of the energy generated. ?Because these ballasts use direct current when it is available but switch seamlessly to standard alternating current when the sun isn?t shining, they use the direct current more efficiently,? according to Scherer.

?It?s one more way we?re being extra green as a university besides cooperating with the municipal utility,? he said.

Through BGSU?s Project EXCITE, which focuses on creating hands-on K-12 science curriculum, Scherer, Amy Boros and Michele Shafer have created a Web site with information about solar energy for schoolchildren and curriculum for teachers.

Boros and Shafer have planned a workshop this month for some Bowling Green teachers to show them how the Web site can fit into their teaching about renewable energy.

A separate plan is for the Project EXCITE Web site to be accessible at an informational kiosk at the governor?s mansion in Columbus, where solar panels have also been installed on the former carriage house. ?We want to raise awareness about the importance of renewable energy and use Bowling Green as a showcase,? Scherer said.