I'll take my solar on the side

Alaska school takes unique approach to installation, installing panels on the building's sides instead of the roof

We've heard of school districts embracing solar technology as one means of cutting energy costs, but here's an unusual twist. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has installed integrated photovoltaic solar panels on the building's sides, instead of on the roof.

The array, installed by Whirlwind Solar from Houston, Texas, is sized at 5.44 kilowatts. Aside from the solar generating capabilities, the technology was designed with improved thermal insulation so that energy consumption is reduced.

Here's some insight into how the design evolved, which is part of a press release about the installation. The comment is from Fred Reardon, with Whirlwind Solar, and it illustrates why sometimes you just have to explore whacky ideas :

"[Fairbanks North facilities manager] Larry Morris and his team at Fairbanks North Star Borough Facilities developed a unique thermal wall design that incorporates new solar wall laminate technology. Larry came up with the idea, I made it a concept and Chuck Wiegers of A&A Roofing took our conceptual design and made it a reality. A&A Roofing, by incorporating some metal craftsman know-how and architectural metals methods and materials expertise created an economical and clean electricity-generating wall system."

There are approximately 80 photovoltaic laminates that make up the side of the building; each is 16 inches wide by 9 feet, 4 inches long. They are about a quarter-inch thick. Weight was an important consideration, and each laminate is about one pound per square foot. The combined weight of the panels is about 1,000 pounds. Typically, this sort of approach can add between 3 pounds and 6 pounds per square foot.

The array is part of the Golden Valley Electric Association's Sustainable Natural Alternative Power program, which arranges for producers to receive a percentage of the wholesale off-peak power rates for the electricity they produce.