General Electric debuted a big new solar panel array outside the headquarters of GE Power on Thursday, inviting political and business leaders, the media, and project leaders within the company to mark the occasion.
The one dignitary that didn’t get the memo was Mother Nature ... but she showed up anyway.
The skies opened up to pour rain on the rollout, and the heavy layer of clouds cut electrical output to less than 10 percent of its 2.26-megawatt capacity.
Brighter days are ahead, though, and the company expects to generate more than 60 million kilowatt hours of electricity over the anticipated 25-year lifespan of the solar array, whose 6,800 panels sit on pillars on rows above a parking lot, forming the largest solar carport in upstate New York.
The electricity will be fed right into the Schenectady-Rotterdam campus, and provide about 4.5 percent of its power needs. This will be the equivalent of fossil fuel-generated electricity that would produce 1,850 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.
The project was undertaken by Current, powered by GE, which is a business within General Electric that works to provides strategy-technology-digital solutions to clients to cut their power bills. More-efficient LED lights are the most frequent tool used, but solar power is another option.
With construction completed, the cost of operating the solar array for the next quarter century is nearly zero — every watt generated is pure savings. Spreading the cost of construction over 25 years vs. the cost of buying an equal amount of electricity from National Grid, GE expects to save $1.5 million a year.
The project was a lot more than the basic bolt-on panels that so many houses sport on their roofs these days. There was some careful planning as the engineers decided how to place the array in the middle of a large open area, subject to strong winds.
“Essentially, it’s a gigantic kite,” said Derrik Filippo, project manager.
A Y shape was chosen for the canopies to give the panels the best possible orientation to the sun. The below-ground part of the project was just as important — footings were driven as much as 65 feet into the ground to provide the carport strength to withstand 110 mph winds and a 5-foot snowpack.
“That’s the kind of things we have to design for,” Filippo said.
GE is not disclosing the overall cost of the project for competitive reasons. It is receiving incentives for construction of the carport from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, as part of the state’s NY-Sun initiative. It also will receive NYSERDA renewable energy credits — one REC per megawatt hour of power generated.
GE does not manufacture solar panels. So Current uses other companies’ panels as part of the energy-saving solutions it prepares for customers. Current is headquartered in Boston, but its solar team is based here in Schenectady.
Erik Schiemann, general manager of solar for Current, said the company has installed ground-mount and carport-mount solar arrays for other industrial customers, and putting one on the Schenectady campus, so prominent in the company’s 125-year story, was a logical next step.
“Historically, the hard part has been making solar technology an attractive investment from both a cost and environmental perspective,” he said in a statement Thursday. “But more than ever before, commercial and industrial companies are realizing that energy efficient technologies are now a realistic option for reducing their energy bills while improving overall sustainability.”
Maryrose Sylvester, president and CEO of Current, said at Thursday’s event that the project shows the company’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainability. Also, she said, it just makes financial sense.
“It’s a terrific economic investment.”