Students increase knowledge of newest solar farm

Feb. 25, 2013 @ 06:24 PM

On Monday, more than a dozen students from Warren County New Tech High School got a firsthand look at how sunlight is transformed into electricity.

On a tour of the new solar farm on the outskirts of Warrenton, Amy Hobach’s class of freshmen listened to descriptions of the process of harnessing solar power by Chief Operating Officer John Morrison of Strata Solar and Carson Harkrader, finance director of Carolina Solar Energy.

But the students also asked questions. Jasmine Jackson asked about the effect of weather on the solar array. Morrison responded that on a cloudy day, such as the day of the tour, less electricity is generated.

Jackson refined her question. “What if lightning strikes it?”

Morrison said that could damage the installation.

“We had a lightning strike that took out 120 panels.”

Fortunately for Warren County, that didn’t happen locally.

But Jackson wasn’t finished. “Does it ever overheat?” she asked.

Morrison said heat wouldn’t damage the solar array, but that on extremely hot days it would not operate as efficiently.

Austin Bender said the tour of the solar farm fit into his studies.

“In science we’ve been studying all types of energy,” he said.

When the class was asked what they thought of the solar farm, their answer was a chorus of “awesome” and “cool.”

Hobach said the tour was a way to reinforce the students’ classroom exposure to science concepts.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them,” she said. “I’ve been talking about it in class. Now they’ve seen it.”

Chad Larkins, chief executive officer of Cherokee Solar Power of nearby Macon, described another aspect of producing solar energy, maintaining the installation after it has been built. His company is providing maintenance for the solar farm.

The solar farm was constructed by Strata Solar. It has been operating since late December.

Prior to the tour, Blair Schooff, vice president for marketing and sales for Strata Solar, presided over a dedication ceremony, complete with a ribbon cutting. He recounted the sequence of events leading up to the dedication ceremony, beginning with a job fair last summer to recruit local workers.

Schooff said Strata Solar organizes its projects in clusters in order to move local workers from one project to another. The company has a southern cluster, a western cluster and an eastern cluster.

“The Warrenton solar farm is the first in a ‘northern cluster’ that will be along the Virginia line,” he said.

This is the third solar farm in Warren County.

In 2011, a 500 kilowatt solar array was installed on the roof of the Glen Raven plant in Norlina. Early last year, a solar array was installed on the roof of Warren County High School, including a smaller array for educational use.

Both projects were undertaken in collaboration with Argand Energy Solutions of Chapel Hill.

A study conducted by RTI International and La Capra Associates found that between 2007 and 2012 the economic benefit of clean energy development — including solar, wind and other natural resources — in North Carolina was $1.7 billion, plus $2.56 billion in spending generated by the projects.

Warren County Director of Economic Development Gabe Cumming said, “This is the latest addition to Warren County’s green economy.”

The new technology and new investment are very much in character with the county’s longtime concern with the environment, he added. The five solar farms already built or planned in Warren County will generate enough power to supply 2,100 households, more than one-quarter of the number in the county.

J.B. Davis, who sold 40 acres of his land to Strata Solar, said his father bought the land in 1940 and used it to raise cows and grain to feed the cattle and would be amazed at this new use.

Jackson stated her assessment of the solar farm very simply.

“It’s making Warren County better.”

 

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.