Student Q+A: What's Happening in the Solar Orchard?

Sustainability Academy fourth grade students discuss the electricity generated by the Shelburne Farms Solar Orchard with Joanne Cucinotta.

On a Wednesday morning in June, our Solar Orchard was full of activity: sheep were finding shade and fresh grass beneath the panels and fourth grade students from the Sustainability Academy in Burlington were learning about renewable energy as part of their engineering unit at school.

The students submitted their questions beforehand, and staff member Joanne Cucinotta — who tracks and analyzes the renewable energy inputs and outputs on the Farm — joined in to answer their inquiries. Read the Q+A below, and submit your questions in the comments!

  1. Do you have fixed or tracing arrays at the farm? Which generates more electricity?
    We have both types of solar panels in our Solar Orchard. Solar panels produce the most energy when they are perfectly perpendicular to the sun. Trackers (as seen above behind the speaker, Joanne) can move and always be perpendicular to the light, so they produce the most energy per panel — up to 25% more than fixed panels! Trackers are also more expensive and take up more space, so there is a tradeoff.
     
  2. How much energy do these solar panels capture each day?
    Our solar panels collectively capture 1000 kwh per day, about the equivalent of one television running for a whole year.
     
  3. How much power do the solar panels create?
    These solar panels produce about 380,000 kwh of electricity per year. That is enough electricity to power 300 refrigerators, 300 televisions running 24 hours per day, or 35 houses for an entire year.
     
  4. How much energy does the sun give off every second?
    In one second, our solar system’s sun produces enough energy for almost 500,000 years of the electricity current needs of our entire planet!
     
  5. Do solar panels have to be a specific shape for them to work?
    They don’t have to be a specific shape — they could be square, rectangular, or circular. They are made up of solar cells grouped together to make panels. A group of panels is called a solar array.
     
  6. Is it ever unsafe to leave solar panels on?
    The tracker solar panel has an anemometer: a device that measures wind speed. When the wind is very strong, the tracker moves to safety mode, in which the panel is moved to a horizontal angle that is parallel to the ground. This prevents the panels from being blown over or bent since less of its surface area can be impacted by the wind. The other solar panels are fixed, but they are closer to the ground, so they are less likely to be impacted by wind.

You can read more about our solar panels and commitment to renewable energy on our Farm Blog here.

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