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Solar Panels at the National Energy Center of Excellence on Bismarck State College Campus

Solar Panels at the National Energy Center of Excellence on Bismarck State College Campus

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, through the third quarter of 2014, 36 percent of all new electricity capacity installed in the U.S. came from solar energy. There are now over 17,500 MW of cumulative solar electric capacity operating in the U.S., enough to power more than 3.5 million average American homes. This has come about because of significant improvements in solar technology along with greatly reduced costs.

Solar energy technology is based on two main types – photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP). CSP typically uses mirrors to concentrate sun rays and create heat that in turn drives a heat or steam engine. PV power uses the sun’s rays to create direct current electricity.

The Energy Information Administration classifies North Dakota with “good” concentrated solar energy resource potential.  Solar thermal devices use heat from the sun, concentrate that heat and then produce heat at desired temperatures. Click here to view North Dakota’s solar photovoltaic resource potential.

Bismarck State College (BSC) installed an 8 kilowatt solar array for demonstration and educational purposes in 2011 through funding provided by N.D. Deparment of Commerce, MDU Resources and BSC.

Whiting Petroleum uses PV systems at oil well sites to power pump jacks in isolated areas in which electrical service is currently unavailable. These systems replace internal combustion engines fueled with lease gas. The PV systems also allow control room staff at natural gas processing plants to see production levels at any time.

Verendrye Electric Cooperative in Velva, N.D., has the largest solar program in the state with more than 240 solar-powered water pumps. The pumps primarily are used in pasture wells in remote areas where building power lines is cost prohibitive. The solar panels are more cost-effective for the cooperative.

The typical cost to Verendrye Electric member farmer is $800 for a direct-current pump and then $18 per month to lease the solar panels. Verendrye’s investment in the solar panels is around $3,000.

In August 2011, Solar Electric Power Association ranked Verendrye Electric second nationwide in a top ten list for solar penetration in 2010. The ranking measured how many solar systems a utility provider had per 1,000 members. Verendrye has 18.8 solar systems per 1,000 members.