Provo Bureau of Reclamation Now Captures both Solar Energy and Water

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The Provo Office of the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) has completed a ground-mount, 96-panel solar energy system in a former unused grassy area on the south side of their building in Provo. TRA Snow and Sun, Inc., known for their custom solar mounts, supplied the custom ground mounting for the panels, and Intermountain Wind and Solar was the integrator.

The Reclamation office is a regional office for the Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, whose mission is “to manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public.” It is the agency responsible for many dams and water conservation projects in the western U.S. Established in 1958 in Spanish Fork, the Provo regional office has been located in south Provo’s East Bay Business Center since 1984.

As part of the mandate by the federal government’s Renewable Energy Priority Goal, Reclamation’s 2014 budget includes money to help integrate large (and smaller) amounts of renewable resources such as wind and solar into the electric grid. This aligns especially well with Reclamation’s mission, as solar energy production does not require any water. Traditional forms of energy production require a large, constant supply for cooling and other purposes, and with the ongoing drought in the western U.S., water conservation is urgently needed.

According to Josh Kresge, Engineering Technician, the Provo Office has been proactive regarding this goal by removing the water-absorbing grass, and remaking that space into an energy producer. “The solar project was part of an effort to protect our environment by becoming more energy efficient. Our office has also recently updated to more energy efficient heating and air conditioning systems, xeriscaped the property using native plants and rocks, and installed a rainwater harvesting system.” Residents of the community near the Provo office know there is a pollution problem, particularly in the winter when inversions trap particulates in the air. Kresge added, “All we need to do is look up at the sky in the winter to know we need to be more proactive about protecting the environment.”

The current system is expected to have a capacity of 19 kW. TRA’s ground-mount supporting rails and hardware, anchored to the ground where the lawn used to be, are part of several basic components: eight solar panel arrays aligned into two parallel rows ground-mounted on the south side of the office building; a circuit combiner box located next to the arrays; three DC disconnect switches located above the circuit combiner; three DC/AC inverters located inside the building’s electrical room; and a utility disconnect, production meter, and net meter located on the east side of the office building. The system also features a device to measure electric output, diagnose problems, and monitor and record overall system function.

Provo City has had a cap on net metering since 2009 of 25 KW of AC power. Reclamation already has plans for a second phase, which will add more panels to reach this cap, and attach to the two rows of the original project.

Jake Owsley of TRA Snow and Sun explains that his company is working to engineer the next phase of the project, which will use the same ground-mount system. “TRA Snow and Sun engineers all our solar mounting systems for free based on specific needs like the ones at the Provo Reclamation office which included a southern exposure, 46 pounds-per-square-foot snow load, and desire to keep the array under the height of the window sill line. The Provo Bureau of Reclamation solar mounting system was a custom ground mount system and not something we stock, so a lot of design and engineering went into this project. We are all ready for the next phase, which will be similar.”