In Short : Burlington, Vermont officials have inaugurated a cutting-edge solar research facility, marking a significant step in advancing solar energy technology. The facility will serve as a hub for research and development, focusing on optimizing solar panel efficiency and performance under various weather conditions.
In Detail : Officials in Burlington, Vermont energized a new solar facility this week. Created by a public-private consortium, it will serve as a research and training facility for University of Vermont students.
The University of Vermont Solar Research and Training Facility is a partnership between the college, the city of Burlington, and McNeil Joint Owners. It was built by Encore Renewable Energy at the city’s McNeil Generating facility site. Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders obtained $150,000 from the Department of Energy for the project.
Burlington Electric Department General Manager Darren Springer explains the research facility has been planned for several years.
“The genesis of this was really that Senator Sanders had worked with the Department of Energy to bring one of five solar test centers in the country to Vermont, I think it was about a decade ago. And that was located originally at the IBM campus. And when that facility was being decommissioned we were able to work with the Senator and the Department of Energy and the University of Vermont and other key partners to have some of that infrastructure and even some of the panels that were in use there come over to this new site for the solar research center at McNeil.”
UVM Junior Emily Ninestein is pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering. She says a lot of the research that is currently done is based on simulations and models and she’s excited to start hands-on research.
“So we do a lot of math. We do a lot of coding. And all of that is really great and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot with that. But to be able to have a real site where we can get Vermont data from is really exciting and it will open up a lot of opportunities for us to explore some new research questions. So to be able to have our own source for solar data is really exciting. And they also have 11 different types of solar panels at the new site. So we’ll be able to test how those solar panels operate in Vermont’s conditions which is something that hasn’t really been done before because Vermont is a unique climate and a unique environment. And we have a lot of solar panels here. So to be able to really understand what kind of solar panels we should be using for the conditions here will be really cool.”
The Burlington Electric Department will purchase all the energy produced by the solar array. Springer says it’s only expected to produce enough energy to power about 11 homes, noting the purpose of the facility is research.
“This isn’t necessarily a significant amount of energy production relative to our overall use. But it is still going to produce some solar energy that we will purchase and benefit from as it also serves as a research hub. We really do have a vision for that entire plant site as being something more like an innovation hub. Obviously we produce an important renewable energy resource with the McNeil Wood Chip Plant. But we’re also working on ways that we can utilize that differently like with district energy, making that more efficient. This is an opportunity to do really interesting work with UVM on workforce training, on solar research. We see future opportunities at the plant as well. So this is really a tangible step towards trying to have that campus being an innovation hub.”
Ninestein says Vermont is a hub and leader for renewable energy and the new facility will help push the envelope of energy technology.
“I think right now we have a lot of ambitious policies for incorporating renewable energy but we don’t have all of the science and the tools yet in order to actually facilitate that transition and we don’t have a large enough workforce really to make that transition possible. So pushing the envelope of technology I think is a combination of having the tools like the McNeil site to study renewable energy and study the problems that we need to tackle but also to inspire students to start getting interested in renewable energy and to study electrical engineering or environmental science or something related to the renewable energy field which will help us all collectively push the envelope together.”
UVM will operate and manage the Solar Research and Training Facility. The city of Burlington and McNeil Joint Owners, which are the Burlington Electric Department, Green Mountain Power and the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority, provides its site license.