USF St. Pete, Duke Energy Flip Switch on $1M Solar Project

May 20, 2015

The new 6,600 square foot, 100 kW solar array on top of the USF St. Petersburg parking garage is made up of 318 panels and will provide all the power for the garage's lights, security cameras and a pair of electric car charging stations.
Credit USF St. Petersburg Office of Sustainability

USF St. Petersburg and Duke Energy have "flipped the switch" on what they're calling one of the largest and most efficient solar arrays in the city.

The system sits on top of a seven-story campus parking garage on Fifth Avenue South. The 6,600-square foot, 100-kilowatt canopy is a "net zero" system, meaning the power it generates will be used to run the garage's lights and security cameras, as well as a pair of electric car charging stations.

When it's cloudy or at night, power stored up in a pair of huge batteries on the ground floor will run the facility. The batteries are made by the energy division of electric car maker, Tesla.

Electrical engineering faculty and students at USF's Tampa campus will monitor the system, as well as learn about its capabilities.

Tesla Energy mechanical engineer Chad Conway (right) explains the battery system on the new USFSP solar energy system to Duke Energy Florida President Alex Glenn.
Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News

Duke Energy Florida President Alex Glenn said that kind of research makes the million dollar grant his company awarded USF St. Petersburg well worth it.

"The intellectual capital that they can bring to bear and studying how efficient the battery is, how often it works, when it works, whether it degrades over time, how much energy is being stored and when is it being pushed back to the grid, will be unbelievably valuable to us as we design systems for the future," Glenn said.

Glenn added that Duke has funded similar systems at 50 Florida schools, and plans to build up to 500 megawatts of new solar capacity around the state in the next 10 years.

"It's a great glimpse at the future, the high-technology commitment to sustainability," said USFSP Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska. "So it just feels like we're on the right path and doing the right things."

We'll have more on the new solar power system, including video from the unveiling ceremony, on next week's University Beat.