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Panels Produce Electricity for Morris

The article was originally published by the Stevens County Times

Over the last year, the City of Morris erected four solar arrays on some of its buildings. Two of these arrays, at the former Senior Community Center and the Liquor Store, are viewable from ground level. The other two, at City Hall and the Library, are mounted on the building’s flat roofs making them difficult to view from ground level. Altogether, these four arrays total to 113 kW. All together the systems could produce up to 200,000 kWh every year.

But backing up, what is a solar panel? How does produce electricity? And what are the benefits of solar over other sources electricity?

So, what is a solar panel? At the most basic level, a solar panel is made up of layers of glass and solar cells. The solar cells themselves are made of layers of silica, phosphorous, and boron. The solar cells produce electricity when light photons from the sun hit the solar cells. The light photons interact with the layers of silica, phosphorous, and boron producing an electric current which is then routed out of the panels before going to an inverter. Solar panels, or rather the solar cells that produce the electricity, were first invented in the late 1800’s. These solar cells were made by coating sheets selenium with thin layers of gold. The modern solar panels that we use today were first made in 1941 by Russel Ohl. Over the years, solar cells found their way onboard space bound satellites and in some of the first handheld calculators. As technology has improved, solar panels quickly became a viable option for generating electricity to be used on the electrical grid.

Using solar panels to power a building has many benefits. One of the clearest of these benefits is that buildings equipped with solar panels can still power buildings even when there are outages on the main electrical grid. Also, excess energy that is produced can be sold back to the grid. This means that your electric utility bills would have a credit on them instead of a charge. Additionally, installed solar on buildings increases the value of the building significantly.

The solar that has been installed on our city buildings offer us many benefits. First and foremost, these solar panels help to offset most of the energy consumed in these buildings. This saves the city money by decreasing our energy costs. It also makes our buildings more resilient and future-proof. Another benefit of installing solar on our buildings is that it offers our community a closer look at what solar installations look like and how they work. By building our community’s knowledge surrounding solar power we are preparing ourselves for a future where we could produce all of our energy locally. If we were able to install enough solar and wind energy to provide for the city’s electrical needs it would build community wealth and decrease our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

So far the solar that has been installed on our city’s buildings have produced over 60,000 kWh which is enough energy to power 6 homes for an entire year. The most promising of these installations is at the Library. The solar array on the Library is the biggest of the four arrays we installed on our buildings. The reason it is the most promising though has to do with another energy efficient system in the building. The library uses a geothermal system to cool and heat the building. This means that the buildings cooling and heating needs are already electrified. Thus, the solar installation on the library has the potential to power the entire building and all of it’s systems fully with renewable energy. It would be the first building in the city to operate fully on clean energy.

But the solar installations on city buildings are not the only solar installed in Morris. Many residents have opted to install solar panels on their own homes to help offset their individual energy costs. A program, known as Solar United Neighbors, helps to provide individuals with all of the information and resources available to residential solar installations. Solar panels are also installed all over the UMN Morris campus and at the West Central Research and Outreach Center further offsetting these institutions energy costs and associated demand charges. The city is also a designated SolSmart Silver city. SolSmart is an organization that recognizes communities, municipalities, and counties that make it easier for its residents and businesses to install solar on their properties. In Morris, we looked first at our building codes and identified codes which intentionally or unintentionally made it more difficult for landowners to install solar. We also changed our zoning codes to allow for ‘solar by-right’ so that solar installations will not require special permits or hearings.

It’s safe to say that solar is here to stay.

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