Kenai Wildlife Refuge beginning to track solar energy

Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion An array of photovoltaic solar panels generate electricity from the winter sunlight at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters on Wednesday, Jan. 4 in Soldotna.

When the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge opened its new visitors center in May 2015, one new feature was a pair of 60-square meter solar arrays.

Though the solar panels have since been online and off-setting the electricity the visitors center building consumes from the grid, refuge staff didn’t know until recently how much power they were generating. Ranger Leah Eskelin said the solar system’s digital metering was kept inactive until the federally-operated refuge could fill security requirements for networked government computers.

Refuge maintenance mechanic Don Hendrickson said the metering system is now online and he’s been able to track the activity of the solar arrays since November. They’ve been putting out about 4.3 kilowatts a day, he said — about the same as running a generator.

“It’s nice to know that getting only five hours of sun a day, we’re still getting energy from them,” Hendrickson said.

In the summertime, Hendrickson estimates the arrays will generate about 20 kilowatts a day.

According to a refuge information pamphlet, the solar arrays are expected to provide between 3 percent and 10 percent of the headquarters building’s power needs, though Eskelin said that percentage would likely increase as the refuge gets more information on how much the solar panels produce. Hendrickson said the panels could be feeding surplus power back into the grid in the summer.

The new refuge headquarters building was designed to demonstrate power-saving and clean energy technology. During the day the lobby, gift shop and staff offices get much of their illumination from windows and skylights, and after sunset from LED light strips that Hendrickson estimated consume about only about one kilowatt per week. With the lobby and gift shop heated by a wood-burning soapstone fireplace and the offices and exhibit space with an efficient triple-pass water boiler, Hendrickson said that the biggest power consumers in the building are its computers.

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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