Iowa’s Luther College studies options for solar energy storage


A 552.96 kW solar array on a field near the Luther College Campus (Center for Sustainable Communities/Luther College)
A 552.96 kW solar array on a field near the Luther College Campus (Center for Sustainable Communities/Luther College)
Nick Fetty | May 31, 2016

A small liberal arts college in Northeast Iowa is considering ways to make solar energy more economically feasible to power its nearly 200 acre campus.

Officials at Luther College are weighing their options for ways to better utilize the storage capabilities of solar energy generated by the campus’s various solar arrays. A report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Luther College could save about “$25,000 in energy costs for each of the next 25 years if it installs a 1.5 MW solar array and a 393 kW battery.” The analysis assumes that a third party investor will cover the cost of additional solar systems and would accept a five percent return on investment. Kate Anderson, an engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, estimated that if the measures in the analysis are implemented it would save the Decorah-based college one to two percent annually on electricity costs.

Luther College currently has several on-campus solar arrays with the potential of producing more than 1,000 kW of electricity. Officials with the college hope to generate 70 percent of the campus’s power from renewables by 2020 and to become carbon neutral by 2030. Last month, the college dedicated three new solar arrays capable of producing 820kW of electricity, making Luther the host of the most solar photovoltaic (PV) in the state.

Luther College ranks third among liberal arts colleges nationwide for solar PV generating capacity, behind Oberlin in Ohio and Bowdoin in Maine.

Eastern Iowa cooperative named national leader in solar energy


A map of solar power concentration across the United States. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
A map of solar power concentration across the United States. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Nick Fetty | November 6, 2014

Iowa has been known as a national leader in wind energy and the Hawkeye State may now be on its way to being a leader in solar energy as well.

A recent report by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) touts the Farmers Electric Cooperative in Kalona as one of the nation’s leaders in solar energy. The 650-member utility provider “has become a model for simple, hands-on business programs that have made 20 percent of its members solar owners.”  The report states that co-op members who install solar panels on their homes and farms are eligible for a “a feed-in-tariff for self-generation or [they can] opt for an up-front rebate based on the size of their systems.”

Farmers Electric has also set a goal for reducing its use of fossil fuels 25 percent by 2025. The Green Power Program allows members to pay an extra $3 on monthly utility bills and the money is used to purchase biodiesel to fuel backup generators. Additionally, the company has provided solar energy panels for area schools including the Iowa Mennonite School as well as Washington Township Elementary School.

The cooperative opened the state’s largest solar farm over the summer which includes approximately 2,900 solar grids spread across roughly 4.5 acres. This event garnered attention from local, state, and even national media outlets.

Last month, Farmers Electric Cooperative general manager Warren McKenna was named Utility CEO of the Year by SEPA.