Yeager Airport Moving Forward on Big PV Project

Charleston Gazette reporter Caitlin Cook has a story this morning on Yeager Airport’s steady progress in creating real reliable power for itself.

Yeager Airport officials are moving forward with a project they said could make the airport the first in the nation to run entirely on electricity it generates from solar panels.

The project stems from the Federal Aviation Administration urging airports across the nation to become more sustainable. The move would lower the airport’s energy costs and carbon footprint.

On Wednesday, board members decided to take the six bids they received earlier in that day to the FAA next week.

“It has become a good time to [install solar panels],” Yeager Airport Director Rick Atkinson said. “Airports have the property and they are large consumers of energy.”

While Yeager isn’t your typical airport because of the region’s terrain, most airports have a lot of unused land because the necessary separations between runways, Atkinson said. He added the cost of installing solar panels decreasing coupled with the panels efficiency increasing, makes the project more enticing.

If Ms. Cook is going to continue to write about renewable power and the emerging electrical system, she will have to have a better understanding of generating capacity and energy output.  In her article, she describes Yeager’s proposed system this way:

If the project comes to fruition, Yeager would produce about 4 megawatts of energy annually feeding directly into the power grid, Atkinson said.

The mistake may have been Mr. Atkinson’s, but Ms. Cook should have corrected it.  The correct statement should have been that the Yeager system will have a rated capacity of 4 megawatts (4 million watts).  Rated capacity is essentially the total amount of electricity that the system is capable of producing at any one time.  For comparison, my home system has a rated capacity of 3.54 kilowatts (3540 watts).

The quoted statement from Mr. Atkinson also includes the dimension of time by using the word “annually.”  The annual output of the system should be expressed not in megawatts, but in megawatt hours (or kilowatt hours).  This would be far less than simply multiplying rated capacity by the number of hours in a year, because the sun does not shine all the time.  When the sun does shine, PV panels only produce at their maximum capacity for a short time during the day, because panels only produce at their maximum when the sun’s rays strike them at near perpendicular angles.  My home PV system, with rated capacity of 3.54 kW produced a little over 4000 kwh in the past year, about 13% of the total possible generation if the system were running at maximum capacity 24 hours a day for a year.  This percentage would be higher in a sunnier climate, and lower in a cloudier one.

The first step in taking responsibility for our own electricity is understanding how electricity works.  Journalists should be taking a more active role in providing real public education about what electricity numbers mean.

Hats off to officials at Yeager Airport.  Things are moving forward rapidly in the construction of WV’s new electrical grid.

 

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