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Published: 10/28/2010

Solar project near Skyway to shed light on panels' vigor

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
About 900 solar arrays occupy about four acres between the Greenbelt Parkway interchange and the Central Avenue overpass. The project will provide power to the Veterans' Glass City Skyway. About 900 solar arrays occupy about four acres between the Greenbelt Parkway interchange and the Central Avenue overpass. The project will provide power to the Veterans' Glass City Skyway.
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The Ohio Department of Transportation estimates that the arrays will generate about 131,000 kilowatt-hours each year. The Ohio Department of Transportation estimates that the arrays will generate about 131,000 kilowatt-hours each year.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Two experimental solar-panel arrays being installed near an I-280 interchange in North Toledo should begin generating electricity - and test data - by early January, Ohio Department of Transportation and University of Toledo officials said Wednesday.

Under a $1.5 million federal grant, state contractors are putting up solar arrays from two Toledo-area manufacturers, First Solar Inc. and Xunlight Inc., to compare how effective and durable they are in a highway environment.

David Dysard, ODOT's district deputy director in Bowling Green, said the project is a "win-win-win situation" because it provides an opportunity for the state to use renewable energy for the nearby Veterans' Glass City Skyway, for the university to do research and provide public education, and for the two manufacturers to test their products.

"This is part of the completion of the Veterans' Glass City Skyway," said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), for whom the project will fulfill a promise to have power for the $237 million I-280 bridge over the Maumee River provided from a "green source."

The solar panels occupy about four acres next to the freeway between the Greenbelt Parkway interchange and the Central Avenue overpass, a short distance north of the Skyway's north end.

ODOT estimates the arrays will generate about 131,000 kilowatt-hours annually, or about three-quarters of the juice needed for the Skyway's lights. Electricity from the arrays will feed into the local power grid by day, and ODOT will be credited for that amount against the power the bridge consumes at night.

"This is a great opportunity to take cloverleafs and turn them into something more sustainable than we have," said Pete Alyanakian, the national sales manager for First Solar, whose 67-kilowatt solar array will use two support-rack systems, both manufactured in Ohio. Its panels are made in Perrysburg.

"This is one of our largest projects so far. We are very appreciative of the opportunity to work with ODOT," Xunming Deng, Xunlight's president and chief executive officer, said. Xunlight is headquartered in Toledo.

The research portion of the project is expected to have an annual budget of about $500,000, split between ODOT and the university.

It will include a Web site where the public can observe how much electricity various portions of the array are generating in real time, said Rich Martinko, director of UT's Intermodal Transportation Institute.

Kiosks with information about the project will be set up on the university campus and at the I-75 northbound rest area near Bowling Green, Mr. Martinko said.

About half of First Solar's panels are in place, while installation of Xunlight's panels has just begun. The Xunlight panels require no mounting structure; instead, they rest on the ground, separated from the earth by a rubber membrane traditionally used in the roofs of commercial buildings. "Our products were finished a while ago. We've been waiting for the ground work to be finished," Mr. Deng said.

The project is the first use in Ohio, and only the second in the United States, of solar energy to provide electricity for a highway, Mr. Dysard said, and it will become a showpiece for Ohio's future positioning at the forefront of alternative-energy development.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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