Solar Powered Splitboard Bindings
Words: Becca Ritter
We are stoked to announce that we have completed installing a 50kW solar array on the roof of Spark R&D! Like most big projects, many things had to fall into place in order for us to get here.
When we purchased our building in 2016, one of the first things we did was meet with our friends at OnSite Energy to discuss how to turn our new big, beautiful heat trap of a roof into an energy making machine. Designs for solar were drawn up and we were on our way!
Until we weren’t. It turns out when you buy more machines, mold everything in-house, and make more bindings, you use more energy. When you use more energy inside the building, you need more energy from the outside of the building. We worked with our local utility company to bring us more power directly from the power pole itself, while simultaneously consolidating our electrical meters (this building was previously a rental, and there were meters all over the place!).
With our new mega panel and enough power to run all of our machines and systems at once, we were back on track to plan our solar project. Except, by this time it was almost winter again … not a great time to be up there standing on the roof carrying heavy things. So, over the winter, we re-designed the system to work with our new electrical setup, applied for all the permits, scheduled the engineering inspections and waited for Spring.
While all of this was going on, we applied for a Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). These grants are available for small businesses in rural areas to help pay up to 25% of the costs of implementing renewable energy systems. Right around the time our electrical work was completed, we learned that our application was funded! Everything fell into place at the perfect time as it often does. With the stars aligned, we scheduled our solar installation for July of 2018.
And here we are! We just finished the installation of a 50kW photovoltaic grid-tied system, the largest we can legally have according to the state of Montana. It takes up approximately 2/3 of our roof space with 166 panels which will cover about 25% of our actual energy consumption. We are hopeful that with the legislature efforts continuously being put forth, the maximum solar array size can be increased and we can add more panels, but for now, we are stoked to be making our own energy in any capacity!
One of the really cool parts about being tied to the grid is that the grid actually works as a battery for us. As mentioned, when our shop is cranking we’ll offset about 25% of our energy usage, but when things slow down a bit, we’ll be putting clean energy back into the grid and we’ll be credited back on our utility bill for our contribution.
Most people have at least a basic understanding of how solar energy works. But here's a quick refresher: The sun is a giant nuclear reactor that is constantly blasting photons towards the earth. The photovoltaic panels are made of semiconductors which absorb the energy. The energy knocks electrons loose which the panels (cells) force to flow in a certain direction. This is your Direct Current (DC) which is then channeled to our inverter, and as you might have guessed, inverted from DC to Alternating Current (AC).
This energy is now in a usable form and goes directly into Spark R&D. It’s a little more complex than this, but you get it.