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Solar farm helps SVEC cut power usage
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Photo by BOB McCLUREOfficials from Pinellas County Schools and the city of Seminole check out a new solar farm at Seminole Vocational Education Center. The 22-panel system has saved the school 19 percent in electric costs over the past four months.
SEMINOLE Ė A dedication for the first phase of a $22,500 solar farm at Seminole Vocational Education Center was held Oct. 19 at the school with a number of Pinellas school officials and city leaders on hand.

Former SVEC director Peter Berry, who got the project rolling two years ago, spoke about the importance of solar energy and where the technology stands today.

On June 8, SVEC installed a 22-panel solar power system that has the capacity to produce 5.2 kilowatts of electricity per hour.

Because the system was new and testing had not yet been done, school officials had no idea how much savings it would produce. Last week, they announced some impressive numbers.

Over a four-month period in 2012, compared to the same period a year earlier, SVEC saw a 19 percent savings in its electric consumption, which resulted in a four-month savings of $1,185.70.

Funding for phase one of the system came through Perkins funding, or funding related to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006, which provides about $1.3 billion in federal support for career and technical education programs.

The move toward solar energy in the area is not new. The city of Seminole recently constructed two Public Works buildings that use solar panels, which annually produce 86,732 kilowatts of free electricity. Power not used by the city is sold back to the grid.

In addition to its solar power efforts, SVEC also has installed more efficient lighting throughout the school, which has also resulted in a noticeable difference in power usage.

The solar system at SVEC consists of two strings of 11 SolarWorld Sunmodule panels using a Sunny Boy inverter, which converts the DC power into AC usage. Each panel produces 240 watts.

The panels, which are aimed south, are mounted on eight 3-inch steel pipes that are embedded 70 to 80 inches in the ground and surrounded by 16 inches of concrete.

Installation was done by SVEC carpentry, electrical and alternative energy students.

The system is the only one of its size in use in Pinellas County Schools. The only other system in place is a smaller 1 kwh system at the St. Petersburg campus of Pinellas Technical Education Center.

Solar systems, SVEC instructor Dan Bench said, typically pay for themselves in 10 to 12 years. Life expectancy on the inverter systems is between 25 and 30 years, and even longer on the panels.
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