There’s no doubt that solar energy is cheap, clean and abundant. With solar energy now accounting for 1.6% of total U.S. electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more homes and businesses are powered by solar than ever before.
With more and more businesses turning to solar, it’s important to stay in the know about efficient, appealing ways to install farms and tie them to the grid without ruining the visual appeal of large properties and rural lands. We spoke to Kent Jones, Principal Engineer at Electro-Mechanical Corporation, to find out how, with clever planning, you can enjoy the benefits of solar energy and preserve the aesthetic value of your commercial property.
- What problems can arise when a solar farm is visually unappealing? You can encounter local resistance from the community because no one wants an eyesore in their back yard.
- How are pole-mounted components less attractive than padmount setups? Components mounted on poles can be messy and unappealing. The cables, cross arms and frames are not neatly arranged, multiple poles are required, and the whole setup consumes a large footprint, both vertically and horizontally. Unfortunately, those components are always positioned at the entry point of the solar farm, which is the most visible spot. The field itself, filled with neat rows of glass solar panels, is beautiful. Low-profile padmount setups, which are contained in a steel rectangle container, are neat, enclosed and take up much less space.
- Why are many solar farms still using pole-mounted setups? Many designers assume that this is the most economical solution. They’re unaware of economical padmount options, and using familiar existing products to solve their problems. Prior to the solar world, those were the products they had access to, and they’re still using them.
- What steps are involved in switching from a pole-mounted solar setup to a padmount setup? Switching from pole-mount to padmount components is quite simple. The trick is to draft the proposal outlining the changes before submitting the design to the utility for approval, since utility approval is always required to tie to the grid. If a prospective client needs help with this process, they can give us a drawing of their old pole-mounted schematics and we can convert it to a padmount solution. And remember, we are no stranger to utility personnel.
What are the safety benefits? Not only are padmount solutions more economical in the long run, they’re also safer. It’s about the level of security that you have to place on the gear. Pole-top assemblies are risky because they expose the user to the potential risk of electrocution from downed lines. We build our padmount switchgear to meet the ANSI C57.12.28 enclosure integrity standard. With a single padmount, you have only one enclosure to protect and it’s very secure. Additionally, enclosed gear is not nearly as susceptible to damage from direct lightning strikes. Components are secured from a direct lightning strike by a thick, grounded metal barrier. Finally, enclosed gear, if sealed properly, is not vulnerable to short circuits and general damage by critters. Snakes, birds, bird nests, squirrels and rats have all been known to create short circuits, shutting down the solar farm and killing the animal.
According to Jones, padmount components are a better fit for the majority of solar farms.“There’s nothing that you can do with overhead equipment that you can’t do better with padmount,” said Jones.
Electro-Mechanical Corporation (EMC) is a global leader in developing and manufacturing technologies used for electrical power distribution and control. The company’s three divisions — Federal Pacific, Line Power and Electric Motor Repair – strive to deliver relentless innovation, unmatched quality and unparalleled customer service. One of U.S.’s largest privately held, family-owned manufacturers of electrical apparatus, EMC encompasses nearly one million square feet of modern manufacturing facilities located in Virginia, Tennessee and Mexico. For more information, visit www.electro-mechanical.com.