Not Much Sun – But Plenty of Solar Panels

LI Solar Farm construction shifts into high gear

A rainy and dreary spring has not put a damper on efforts to construct what will be the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the eastern United States, now taking shape in the eastern portion of the Brookhaven Lab site. Just about six months after site preparation work began last November, the Long Island Solar Farm is now more than halfway complete. The 200-acre, 32-megawatt solar project, a collaboration between BP Solar, the Long Island Power Authority, and the Department of Energy (which provided the land for the project) is on track to start providing power to Long Island residents later this fall. It will generate enough renewable energy to power approximately 4,500 homes, and help NY State meet its clean energy and carbon reduction goals.

To date, workers have mounted nearly 90,000 of the 164,000 solar panels that will make up the array, and have installed 11,500 of the 13,000 piles and 4,600 of the 6,800 racks that will hold the panels in place and tilt them toward the sun. Right now, more than 200 workers swarm the site, adding thousands of panels each day and installing the power inverters and cabling that will carry electricity from the panels to the electric grid.

“Our local crews have made great progress after a challenging winter season,” said Pete Resler, manager of Global Communications & External Affairs for BP Solar. ”Soon, Long Island and Brookhaven Lab will showcase the bright future of American renewable energy.”

Even as the construction progresses, Brookhaven Lab scientists continue to develop their own research agenda for the large array and a planned smaller one. The large array will incorporate advanced monitoring equipment that will allow researchers to monitor, in real time, how much power the array is generating in relation to the amount of cloud cover present — giving them the ability to look at the impact of microscale elements like individual clouds on the array’s output.

Researchers are also developing the ability to predict, up to 30 minutes in advance, the output of the large array based on observation, tracking, and evaluation of cloud conditions. This technique, known as “nowcasting,” uses optical imaging of the clouds and sophisticated software to identify shapes, track movements, and evaluate the optical density of the clouds — that is, how much light is filtered by clouds overhead. This type of near-term forecasting will help utilities anticipate changes — such as dips in solar-generated power at times of cloud cover — and make adjustments before they occur to maintain constant power on the grid.

“There’s not a lot of data available on how arrays of this size will function in the changeable weather of the northeastern United States,” said Pat Looney, chair of the Lab’s Sustainable Energy Department. “We have a unique opportunity here to determine how these types of factors might impact our ability to smoothly integrate renewables into the grid.”

Research at the smaller array, while still under discussion, will likely include testing of new inverter and power supply technologies, as well as advanced energy storage devices that will enable power generated during peak output times to be stored for use during times of greatest demand — when the sun may not be shining.

“The smaller research array will serve as a collaborative platform for the Laboratory,” said Looney. “It’s an opportunity for us to work with businesses in New York — especially here on Long Island — as well as university partners here and across the country to design, build, and test new solar-related technologies,” said Looney.

2011-2413  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom