In January 2006, Black Rock Forest’s system of solar arrays started producing energy. In just the first 11 months, the system produced nearly 26,000 kilowatt-hours (kW-h) of electricity, or roughly half the total energy used by the Center for Science and Education, saving about $3,000. Today, thanks to net metering, the solar arrays produce surplus electricity on many sunny days, feeding back to the grid and earning a credit toward the monthly energy bill.
The system has three arrays: 40 photovoltaic panels on the south-facing roof of the Science Center, 32 on the roof of the Solar Pavilion, and 8 on the roof over the steps from the Upper Parking Lot. These panels are connected to inverters in the basement of the Science Center that convert direct current to alternating current and send it to the main electrical panel for distribution. The system’s software provides real time (and archival) data on peak instantaneous power (kW), total power produced (kW-h), insolation (a measure of sunlight in W/m2), and temperature of the solar panel cells (which relates to their efficiency). Consortium members may access the data for research or classroom activities.
Black Rock Forest and FXFOWLE Architects obtained a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) that provided about 60% of the cost of the project. Some additional funding came from New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, thanks to the efforts of former State Senator Bill Larkin. Northern Power installed the solar panels and was the prime contractor for the project. Storm King Contracting built the structures, using red pine from the Forest to frame the entire Pavilion and the Stairway array.