It’s always sunny in State College. At least, it is when it comes to solar energy.
On Thursday, about 30 architects, engineers, researchers and other energy enthusiasts took a tour around some of the area’s most innovative solar projects.
They came from all over, from Alaska and California to Pakistan and Burkina Faso, for Solar 2015, the conference sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society.
“Solar is always local,” said conference chairman Jeffery Brownson, associate professor of energy and mineral engineering.
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Unlike hydroelectric or geothermal, the sun is available everywhere.
One of the goals was to show how solar was as accessible and functional in Centre County as it is in Bordeaux, France, or Northern Italy, which have comparable exposure.
The crowd explored how a building in a shady area of Foster Avenue used its limited sunlight to its advantage. They saw the University Drive lot that will be home to a specially designed energy efficient project that won a Penn State team of architecture and engineering students accolades for innovation.
And they saw the 9 acres of grape vines surrounding Elwin Stewart’s Happy Valley Vineyard, where the 9.2-kilowatt solar array on what looks like a traditional red barn provides power to make the wine, charge the golf cart that runs across the property and light the shop where customers can sample a crisp white or earthy red.
How much of a difference can solar make? Stewart brought out his electric bills. His whole operation cost less than $3 in electricity in May. His most expensive month in 2015 was March, which still came in under $300 in a heavy production month with snow on the roof, sometimes covering the panels.
“We are doing this so people really get excited and interested about the technology in place and see how they can utilize it in their own lives,” said local organizer Laura Dininni.
ASES appreciated the effort.
President David Panich, of Framingham, Mass., called the conference one of his group’s best in years, bringing together great programs with informative events like the tour.
“This is really a beautiful technology,” he said.