REC Solar installs specialised challenge at observatory atop dormant volcano in Hawaii

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REC Solar installs specialized project at observatory atop dormant volcano in Hawaii

REC Solar, a division of Duke Energy, has completed the world’s largest commercial solar system at the highest altitude of 13,600 feet at the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

The 133 kW solar project – near the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii – is located on the roof of the telescope system of the Keck Observatory between the domes of the twin Keck I and Keck II, the world’s largest optical and infrared telescopes. The system will produce 259.1 MWh of energy annually, which will reduce the observatory’s electricity needs by around 15%.

“The installation of generators for renewable energies such as solar PV is important for Keck’s core values ​​of responsibility and service. This will reduce our reliance on electricity generated mainly from fossil fuels, which underscores our efforts to be good stewards of the planet, ”says project leader Mark Devenot, infrastructure specialist at the Keck Observatory.

Hawaiian Electric approved the PV system to operate on September 30, 2020. The system consists of 332 solar panels strategically placed on the unique 20,940 square foot ballast roof to prevent snow and ice falls from the domes Occur times a year.

“One of the biggest challenges was to attach the PV system to this type of roof, which does not have a structural framework to anchor the system,” says Devenot.

To solve this problem, the solar system was specially developed for the unique gravel roof design and to support high winds. The team also had to deal with work at high altitude, which on average contained 40% less oxygen than at sea level.

“Bringing solar power on the roof of the Keck Observatory was a special experience for the REC Solar team as the project focuses on science, safety and innovation,” said Dan Alcombright, managing director, growth implementation for Duke Energy. “Our team respected land and wind restrictions throughout the construction and used our local experience and detailed weather data to design solar systems with special mechanical attachments that could withstand the gusts of wind and the climate of a Pacific island at high altitude. We are pleased to be able to offer Keck a sustainable energy solution that has a positive impact on both the company and the environment. “

At high altitudes, the panels capture more photons and produce more energy than in places at sea level. This is because sunlight on Mauna Kea doesn’t have to travel as much through Earth’s atmosphere where the photons could be absorbed by something else. A 40% lower atmosphere, which is one of the reasons Mauna Kea is one of the best places on earth to do astronomy, also makes for efficient solar energy generation.

This new solar array on the roof of the telescope facility of the Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea offers the team a unique research opportunity to collect data on how solar modules work in a thinner atmosphere with a high UV index and below average winds. The REC Solar team will continue to monitor and analyze these conditions for future high altitude solar systems.

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