Automation Alley was established in 1998 to bring together Southeast Michigan businesses, educators and government officials. Its goal is to accelerate commercialization of new technologies and services for its 680 member organizations. In the fall of 2004, Automation Alley opened its new 11,000-square-foot headquarters in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Mich. Housing a Technology Center, International Business Center and the Great Lakes Interactive Marketing Association, the structure is visited by over 500 business owners, facility managers and residential consumers every month. To exhibit beneficial advancements in solar technology, Automation Alley partnered with member United Solar Ovonic LLC to retrofit the building with a Uni-Solar® Building Integrated Photovoltaic System.
“By utilizing this leading-edge energy management system, we will demonstrate and promote energy efficient technology to a broad membership of technology companies, academic institutions, government officials and regional economic development centers,” said Tom Anderson, senior director of Automation Alley Technology Center. “Not only does this technology contribute to a healthy environment and reduce our energy demands, it poses a practical business case by ensuring continued power to lighting and computer systems, reducing energy costs and, in some instances, actually turning energy meters backwards.”
United Solar selected its Uni-Solar PVL-136 “peel and apply” solar laminates for the installation. The photovoltaic laminates (PVL) are flexible and lightweight laminates made exceptionally durable by encapsulation in UV-stabilized polymers. UL-rated, their power output is warranted for 20 years.
Easy-On SolarFor the installation, Automation Alley recruited Uni-Solar-certified contractor S.U.R. Energy Systems LC, located in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Uni-Solar has designed their products around roofers,” said SUR’s owner, John Wakeman. “The laminate weighs only four or five pounds per square foot, requiring much less ballast for wind loading. Plus, their products are the best at retaining their rated power output, regardless of temperature changes.”
The energy storage system used in the Automation Alley installation is produced by member company Cobasys. The Orion, Mich.-based manufacturer makes advanced NiMH battery systems. Both United Solar and Cobasys are subsidiaries of ECD Ovonics.
“We feel confident with Cobasys that we are referring contractors to a reliable supplier on the electrical end,” said Doris Harber-Hollins, Applications Marketing Engineer for United Solar. Harber-Hollins was on site daily during the year-long Automation Alley project. She pointed out her company has reached out to contractors by simplifying the training process for certified Uni-Solar installers with monthly classes in San Diego, a training DVD and local training sessions as needed. She reiterated that the biggest advantages for installers are the Uni-Solar products themselves.
“The benefits of glassless solar laminates are numerous,” said Harber-Hollins. “Virtually unbreakable, lightweight and easy to install, they are ideal for standing seam metal roofs.”
However, the original Automation Alley roof was a non-reinforced EDPM 60 mil membrane roof, ballasted with river rocks. Because the roofing material was not compatible with direct application of PVL, United Solar utilized its Premier Solar Flat Solution.
Solar Laminating Non-Metal RoofsThe Premier Solar Flat is a self-ballasted, non-penetrating, detachable, power-generating application for every type of flat or low-slope roof. According to the company, the PVL is applied to standing seam metal pans assembled on a support structure designed to distribute the system’s weight. Prior to the installation of the system, the river rocks were removed from the roof to make room for the 12-panel solar array. Roof preparation included placing a protective membrane on the existing roofing material. This initial layer protected the roofing material and provided a clean surface for installing the support system.
The support frame was built on the roof without penetrations or any damage to the existing roofing material. All metal in contact with protective membrane had rolled edges to protect the membrane and roofing material. Once the support frame was complete, the laminates were applied to the standing seam metal pans using United Solar’s unique peel and stick installation technique. The metal pans with solar laminates were then attached together to the supporting frame structure using generally accepted standing-seam metal roofing techniques.
The completed framed structure was secured to the roof by placing concrete pavers to provide a simple self-ballasted method. Skirting was secured around the frame to cover the electrical connections and to hold the concrete pavers. In order to maximize space usage and provide a view of the system, a tilted array was designed for the south elevation of the system.
Energy Made, Money SavedThe Automation Alley system has a total of 228 PVL-136 solar laminates covering nearly 13,000 square feet. Of the 30 kW generated by the system, 26 kW are tied directly to the power grid, the network of power lines, transformers and power plants that deliver electricity to individual buildings. Two kW are utilized as direct current (DC) for the building’s lighting with a Cobasys battery backup, and 2 kW are dedicated to battery backup for the building’s servers, telecommunications and audio-visual controls. In this region of Michigan, there is an average of 4.2 hours of collectable solar radiation available for energy generation each day. The total system is expected to generate approximately 42,500 kWH per year for a savings of $4,678.
According to United Solar, the electricity produced by the grid-tied system is fed into the building’s alternating current (AC) panel through an inverter and an AC circuit breaker. The power generated reduces the electricity drawn from the power grid by supplying energy directly to the building load. If the system generates more power than the building load, the excess electricity is fed back into the grid, reducing utility bills further by turning the dials on the electric meter backwards. The remaining power produced by the system generates DC electricity, which travels directly into the building’s DC lights. This new Direct Coupled® system is manufactured by Nextek Power Systems, located in Detroit. Since conversion to AC power isn’t needed, this ultra-high efficiency lighting solution runs at a minimum of 98 percent efficiency.
“The key is utilizing the DC power directly,” explains Harber-Hollins. “No conversion means no power loss, and less heat to drive-up air conditioning use.”
Additionally, a Uni-Solar Data Acquisition System was supplied to Automation Alley, providing real-time and accumulated information on the performance benefits of the system. The system consists of a 12-inch touch-screen monitor, which is connected to the power grid and a weather station, and is remotely accessible via the Internet. The system is mounted in the lobby of the Automation Alley headquarters for visitors to view and monitor the system’s performance.