By Dan Callam, Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway
New, strange looking creatures began appearing behind the Visitors Center at the Outdoor Discovery Center this past fall. You might be forgiven for thinking them reptilian, with their dark, scaly exteriors sunning themselves on the edge of the pond where turtles can be found resting on logs.
But instead of some type of living beast, the large newcomers are the panels and equipment for a new solar array. The 19.72kW system was constructed and installed through a partnership with Helios Solar of Kalamazoo. The panels are mounted facing the south, gathering the greatest amount of sunlight each day without having to adjust their orientation. They can easily be viewed from the Visitors Center.
Solar panels work by gathering photons, the tiny bits of energy released by the sun. These tiny bits of energy hit the solar panel, knocking free electrons from the atoms on the panel’s surface. The panels are installed as part of a circuit, creating the flow of electrons that connects to the electrical grid and ultimately keeps the lights on.
The new solar panel array is designed to help with the ODC’s sustainability goals, helping to generate the energy that powers the Visitors Center. It sits next to the wind turbine, which has been on the
ODC Nature Preserve since 2004, helping power Founders Hall and the Discovery Pavilion. Additionally, the parking lots have been lit with solar-powered LEDs that automatically turn on at dusk.
While solar power is certainly not a novel concept, it is increasingly used to offset traditional sources of electricity generation. Solar panel technology has improved over the years, becoming increasingly efficient. Even though the sun is not always shining, particularly at this time of the year, it still results in some power being generated, saving the need for drawing electricity from the grid.
The ODC solar array has saved nearly 6,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions since its installation last fall, the equivalent of having planted more than 330 trees. On an annual basis, the array is expected to generate the electricity required to power three average-sized homes. All told, the system represents thousands of dollars saved annually.
With this kind of savings, the ODC is looking to add panels to help power the preschool and birds of prey facility in the coming months. As more solar projects go in for sites big and small, we hope West Michigan will soon be to the point where solar panels no longer are a strange sight.
*Photos courtesy of the Outdoor Discovery Center.
Dan Callam is Greenway Manager for the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway.
This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Environmental Awareness/Action: Environmental education and integrating environmental practices into our planning will change negative outcomes of the past and improve our future.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to www.hope.edu/sustainability-institute for more information.