New York’s College of Nanosciences Takes Thin-Film PV Technology to a New Level

The Project

SunLink Thin Film Roof Mount College of NanosciencesIn June of 2011, New York’s energy provider, National Grid, awarded a $225,000 renewable energy grant to the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) to help support sustainability initiatives throughout the state and to establish a Photovoltaic Control and Monitoring Center at CNSE’s Albany NanoTech Complex. It was the first grant to be awarded in the eastern part of the state and was a contribution from National Grid’s Renewable Energy and Economic Development Program, which will support sustainable power generation across New York.

The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering is the first college in the world dedicated to the education, research, development and deployment of nanosciences. The prefix nano means one billionth and in this context refers to the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. The state-of-the-art nanotechnology facility in Albany is the only one of its kind, consisting of 800,000 square feet, with plans to expand, and almost 3,000 scientists, students, researchers, engineers and other faculty.

The Challenge

The Photovoltaic Control and Monitoring Center was designed to feature installations of multiple solar systems varying in tilt angle, module type and orientation in order to gain broader data on PV efficiencies. National Grid’s grant allows the Nanoscale Science and Engineering complex to study and develop photovoltaic energy production, and ultimately further advancing solar technology, while at the same time reducing the ecological impact of its own research and fabrication lab operations.

“The objective of this project was to lower the negative environmental impacts of the CNSE while providing research data with which to design and develop the next generation of photovoltaic materials, and to be a model for its students, staff and other institutions and research facilities,” explained Emily Behnke, Assistant Director of Energy & Environmental Technology Applications at the CNSE. “CNSE’s approach was to deploy various different modules with different orientations to enable comparison in performance of these systems.”

Alteris Renewables (which later merged with Real Goods Solar) was retained by the CNSE to manage the integration of the multiple PV systems needed for the monitoring center. Alteris turned to SunLink to design the systems, provide engineering and permitting support and manufacture all mounting components. In addition to designing two traditional SunLink RMS mounting systems for the project, SunLink also designed its first thin film installation, for a total of approximately 75kW atop two different buildings.

The Solution

SunLink Thin Film Roof Mount College of NanosciencesAs the projects got underway, Alteris and SunLink worked together to deliver the best solution possible to the CNSE.

The two SunLink RMS framed-module system designs initially elicited wind loading concerns for the structural engineer of record, so SunLink provided additional engineering support before the projects were submitted for permitting.

Thom Besch, the Alteris Project Manager, explained “The Suniva module specs were sent to SunLink to address wind loading issues as well as equipment clearance and drainage concerns. Fortunately the SunLink engineers were extremely accommodating in providing us revised layouts, with associated calculations, and very quick turn-around.”

Since SunLink’s RMS system was the only fully ballasted mounting system that could accommodate Abound thin film modules, the project team was anxious to learn as much as possible about ballasted thin film design. SunLink undertook comprehensive system and component testing prior to finalizing the design, providing important data to Alteris and the CNSE. Furthermore, the thin-film RMS system had to be aligned with the roof’s structural components in order to overcome roof capacity limitations. SunLink engineers and designers delivered a layout that met structure-following requirements.

In addition to challenging designs, the CNSE instituted stringent permitting specifications due to its role as a clean research center. SunLink worked closely with the Alteris team to ensure that all necessary information was submitted to the satisfaction of the CNSE, and permitting was successful.

Advancing the Clean Tech Industry

Moving forward, CNSE has impressive sustainability goals as it attempts to further advance solar technology while promoting the awareness of PV energy production throughout the US.

Behnke explained, “In keeping with the rapidly expanding need for the clean tech industry, the CNSE is building the Zero Energy Nano (ZEN) Science Research Building, which is designed to operate with a net energy consumption of zero over a typical year with no greenhouse gas emissions. The ZEN building will serve as a full-scale, next-generation, thin-film manufacturing development facility with extensive characterization capabilities.”

The state of New York is home to innovative companies that are striving to develop the next generation of photovoltaic products. The state continues to invest in solutions intended to advance the solar industry as a whole, and preserve the existence of the natural environment in which we all live. SunLink looks forward to continuing to play a leadership role in those efforts.

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