Schools Go Solar

New solar panels bask in the sun atop Westbrook High School. The hot-water panels (left) are similar to the new arrays atop the town's middle and elementary schools, while the electric array (right) is unique to the high school.
New solar panels bask in the sun atop Westbrook High School. The hot-water panels (left) are similar to the new arrays atop the town's middle and elementary schools, while the electric array (right) is unique to the high school. Photo courtesy of Robert Hale

WESTBROOK - Sunny days, cloudy days-it doesn't matter. Whatever the weather, the new solar electric and hot-water heating systems installed on the school buildings' roofs will be making hot water and electricity.

Four solar panel arrays have been installed on the roofs of Daisy Ingraham Elementary School, Westbrook Middle School, and Westbrook High School. One will be used to produce electricity, and the other three to heat water for use in the buildings.

The first installation, the photovoltaic (PV) panels, includes 80, 255-watt Solarworld modules placed in racks on the southeastern lower roof of Westbrook High School. According to Capitol Regional Educational Center (CREC) Project Manager Roger LaFleur, the solar modules were installed at a 10-degree angle to optimize solar electric production in the spring and summer months.

The solar photovoltaic system also includes eight Enphase microinverters located under each solar PV module. The microinverters convert direct current (DC) produced by the solar panels into useble alternating current (AC).

"The AC power is wired back to the building's main electric panel through a utility AC disconnect and fed into a dedicated electrical circuit breaker at the high school. Electricity produced by the solar PV system is interconnected with the Connecticut Light & Power distribution system," said LaFleur. "The solar PV system will generate about 23,000 kilowatt hours annually-enough to supply three homes' annual electricity consumption."

Connected to the photovoltaic solar panel array will be a computer software program that will allow students, staff, and the public to view in real time on a computer screen the amount of electricity the photovoltaic array is producing. On sunny days, more energy will be produced; on cloudy days, less.

The three smaller arrays are solar thermal hot-water systems for heating water for general use within the three buildings. In each system are three solar thermal hot-water panels installed on aluminum racks on the roofs of the school buildings. Hot water generated from the solar panels is piped to a building hot water holding tank where it will be the primary source of domestic hot water for the building. The existing building hot water heater will become the secondary source of hot water.

LaFleur estimates the three thermal hot water systems will produce more than 50 percent of the domestic hot water needs of each of the school buildings year-round. Engineers have planned for the extreme weather conditions that might impact the shoreline community and the solar array installations.

"The solar systems are designed by engineers and meet the code requirements for wind, seismic, and structural loads, including snow," LaFleur said.

The solar panel systems are among the energy-efficiency and capital maintenance projects funded by bonding approved in 2013 by Town voters.

Other Projects

One other energy project already completed was the replacement of inefficient outdoor lights with efficient ones.

Another task planned for this summer is the replacement of several 25-year old roof-top ventilation units at Westbrook High School with new ones.

"The new roof-top units will be much more energy-efficient," said LaFleur.

At Daisy Ingraham, contractors will start replacing the in-room ventilator units. Twelve will be replaced this summer and more during the following summer. Similarly, several aging exhaust fans will be replaced at the school buildings this summer and more the following summer.

"The volunteers of the School Building Committee under Chairman Pat Labbadia have been absolutely wonderful to work with," said LaFleur.

Photo courtesy of Robert Hale
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