The City of Grand Rapids was given the opportunity for a Photovoltaic System in July of 2010 when the United States Department of Energy awarded the City a Congressionally Directed Project Grant. This grant would provide funding, on a dollar for dollar basis, up to a $250,000 limit.
Based on experience and qualifications, the consulting firm of Gordon M. Buitendorp Associates (GMB) was selected to provide professional services for the preliminary design, design, bidding and construction phase services.
Prior to locating the project at the Water/Environmental Facility Building, 11 City owned facilities were reviewed by GMB to establish the best fit for the project. The Water/Environmental Facility offered the best exposure to the sun, the best supporting infrastructure and best opportunity for electrical savings.
GMB coordinated the design with representatives from the Department of Energy, Utility Advisory Board, code compliance/permit review process and City staff.
The bid documents allowed bidders to provide alternative manufacturers of the photovoltaic equipment to furnish and install a complete system that provides 100 Kilowatts (Kw). Bidders were also required to provide unit prices for additional system capacity in order to fully utilize the grant funding. Inovateus Solar LLC of South Bend Indiana submitted the low base bid. The low base bid allowed for an opportunity to increase the base bid 100 Kw system up to a 122.6 Kw system and remain within the project budget. All bids were reviewed and final approval of Inovateus Solar LLC was approved by the Utility Advisory Board and City Commission.
The completed system includes 3 arrays each with 13 strings of 11 panels, a total of 429 panels, and each panel able to provide a maximum 285 watts creating a maximum output of 122625 watts direct current (DC) power per hour. This power is fed into an inverter serviced by “Solectria Renewables” which converts the DC power to AC with a maximum output of 95 Kw. From the inverter, the power is fed through the Consumers Energy owned “net meter” into the building transformer. The inverter also utilizes sensors to capture data associated with the operation of collection and transfer of the power. This data is sent through an internal modem to the manufacture; Solectria Renewables which makes the data available on a website for each location:
Upon review by the Utility Advisory Board and City Commission, the City entered into an “INTERCONNECTION AND PARALLEL OPERATING AGREEMENT FOR CATEGORY 2 PROJECTS” agreement with Consumers Energy. This agreement allows the City to direct power from the inverter back to Consumers Energy electric utility grid at times when our electrical generation exceeds our own use. For a typical workday the number of Kw produced by the photovoltaic system replaces only a portion of the total number of Kw utilized at the facility. On summer weekends, when building power consumption is substantially lower, the accumulated total of Kw on the meter will be lowered.
The inverter also contains an automatic switch gear which will terminate the flow of electricity upon failure of delivery of power by Consumers Energy to prevent damage to the stand-by generator at the facility and avoid a hazard to repairs crews which may be working on downed power lines. In May 2012, the system was operational.