Construction Project

24 Solar Panels Installed

By May 6, 2018 September 11th, 2019 No Comments

New solar panels have been installed! We are so excited that the third batch of solar panels from our Global Giving project to provide renewable electricity for our school is now in place.

Our story to date

Those of you who have been following this story will know that over the previous 5 years, John McHenry, one of our HCAS Board members and team leader from St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, NC, has coordinated efforts to install solar panels at Holy Cross School. Through connections at St. Michael’s, Baker Renewable Energy based in Raleigh, North Carolina, continues to make significant in-kind donations and technical services that facilitate acquisition and installation. For this third batch, we have also partnered with Solar Energy Solutions Belize (SESB), and Harmouch Center in San Pedro, Belize.  SESB has simplified the import process as well as provided a local source of solar expertise, while Harmouch has donated in-kind storage and local delivery services. Without these valuable partnerships, none of this would be possible. But, as John recalls, the original vision for HCAS to have a clean, renewable source of energy that would also reduce its day-to-day operations cost came from our founding missionary, Mr. Vernon Wilson. As John says, he’s just been the one fortunate enough to be in a place to help make Mr. Vernon’s vision happen.

Unexpected Challenges

A number of challenges delayed the implementation of this third batch. Firstly, unexpected reversal of a policy (which had enabled us to gain credit for excess power generated) required the need to install sophisticated energy monitoring equipment, supplied by SESB, on both the first and second batches of panels.  A number of months of data then needed to be collected. The data showed deterioration in power generating capacity on the first batch, which was traced to manufacturer defects. Further analysis revealed a need to re-wire part of the office complex, which was resulting in potential overloads to one of our meters, and underutilization by another—this rewiring was accomplished by an earlier St. Michael’s team. 

Our first two solar phases

The first two phases installed a total of 44 panels, providing 9.8kW of power at peak (about 38% of our typical peak load during a normal school day). However, the deterioration in the first batch had reduced that to about 30% at peak, noting that we have no battery backups and thus no ability to store or use power overnight. A month ago a team from St Michael’s made preparations essential for installing the new third phase, 24 240W panels. They removed the oldest solar panels to make roof repairs underneath them, completely replacing one whole roof section above the office and computer lab. This also allowed for easy inspection and maintenance of the panels by technicians from Baker, who re-installed seven of the original phase 1 batch (in good working order), saved 12 more in “reasonable” condition to be installed as a supplement to the new 24, and discarded 5 that had so badly deteriorated as to be unusable.

Our new batch of 24 solar panels

Then during the week of April 24, SESB arrived to install the 24 brand new panels, along with the 12 supplemental panels recovered from the original phase 1 batch. Per plan, the 12 are available to be “turned on,” but not yet connected pending re-analysis of the monitoring data: a week of that data shows that without these additional 12, the Phase 3/Phase 1 combination of 24 new panels plus seven old ones is matching our weekend power consumption needs quite well, but during a typical school day there is plenty of room to turn on these additional 12 panels. However, due to the above mentioned policy change, the meters have no way of actually “documenting” what “direction” power is flowing, so, if we over-generate, we are unfortunately being charged for the privilege of giving power back to the grid. Thus, it appears that we may need to acquire an on-off switch so that the additional 12 panels can be turned on during the school week, and turned off when school is not in session.

Not counting the 12 currently disconnected panels, we now have a total of 20 240 Watt panels (all working well) connected to the cafeteria side of the school (Phase 2), and 24 @ 240W (Phase 3) plus 7 @ 210W (Phase 1) connected to the office side of the school for a total theoretical peak of just over 12KW. This represents about 46% of our load at peak day-time demand. Assuming the additional 12-panels can be switched on/off for use during school days, peak generation will increase to a maximum of about 14.5KW, or about 55% of total demand during the busiest time of day.

Support our solar project

Find out how you can continue to support our project at Global Giving (see above). Further analysis of the monitoring data will determine how many additional panels will be acquired during the 4th phase, including whether we can implement some battery backup to address nighttime power consumption.  If you are interested and want to keep up with one of our monitors, you may do so here:

In the foreground we see the rows of 7 and 12 solar panels from phase 1. The 24 new solar panels are in the background.

Arial View of Solar Panels

The solar panels from phase 1 and 3 can be seen on the office roof on the left. The phase two solar panels are on the cafeteria roof to the right of the photo.