One building at Virginia Tech is being adapted to soak up the sun.
Construction began in December 2011 to install a photovoltaic, or solar panel, array on the top deck of the Perry Street parking garage. The project was approved at the March 28, 2011, Board of Visitors meeting.
Photovoltaic technology utilizes semiconducting materials, such as silicon, to convert the energy of light into electrical energy. When photons of light strike a photovoltaic cell, the material absorbs the energy and loses electrons from its atoms. The resulting flow of electrons on the solar cell creates direct-current electricity.
The Perry Street parking garage is set to have 480 solar panels, with each consisting of many photovoltaic cells arranged into modules. The resulting 100-kilowatt array will produce an annual energy output of approximately 136,000 kilowatt-hours, or 13 percent of the estimated annual energy output of the parking garage.
“The technology on the garage will be the first major photovoltaic field on campus,” said Hilary West, the communication coordinator for the Office of the Vice President of Administrative Services.
Tech has contracted with Siemens Industry, Inc. for the project. The company’s Building Technologies Division assisted with the university’s LumenHAUS project, an energy-efficient house designed by students, which won the European Solar Decathlon in 2010. Siemens gave more than $150,000 worth of technology and professional assistance to the project.
Bo Frazier, the assistant manager of parking services, said an emphasis has been placed on taking away as few parking spaces as possible for the project — only one half of the garage’s top deck will be closed at a time.
“We are trying to do this in a couple phases so as to not take up too many parking spaces,” Frazier said. “We put up all the steel structures up on the top floor itself … while there was no one here as to not disrupt parking as much as possible.”
Currently, half of the top deck is closed as the steel structures that will support the solar array are constructed. When that is finished, the other half of the deck will be closed for the same construction. These types of closings will take place again when the actual solar panels are installed.
Project manager David Chinn echoes Frazier’s sentiments, assuring that the loss of parking space will be at a minimum.
“You can park on one-half of the top level while they’re working on the other half,” Chinn said.
The $1.3 million budget is funded entirely through a federal grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant, used for the purpose of renewable energy projects, was given to the state of Virginia and divvied up among different projects in the commonwealth.
With the increasing cost of fossil fuels, many incentives exist for those interested in renewable energy. The act provides funds equal to 30 percent of a solar energy-producing property. The federal government also offers tax breaks ranging up to $2,000 for renewable energy.
Virginia Code 58.1-3661 allows any country, city or town to “exempt or partially exempt any solar energy equipment or recycling equipment from local property taxes.” Nineteen counties in the state offer such an exemption, though Montgomery County is not one of them.