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Here Comes the Sun

April 03, 2019 12:00 AM

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​DCNR is committed to powering our buildings and facilities in our state parks and forests with renewable energy.

By 2030, the department will derive 50 percent of our electric from renewables. We’ll accomplish that mostly through solar installations.

The department is taking these actions to:

  • Reduce our carbon footprint, helping to address climate change
  • Save money
  • Demonstrate conservation practices to our visitors and staff

How Solar Panels Work

The sun shines on the solar panels and they absorb energy and convert it into the AC electricity that we use in our buildings and homes.

Solar panels generate the most electricity on clear days with abundant sunshine, but they do work in cloudy weather, just not quite as well.

Any power that is not needed gets sent back (or sold) to the National Grid for others to use.

At DCNR, we’re using a few different types of solar installations.

Solar Shingles

Solar shingles at Mt. Pisgah State Park

Solar shingles and solar panels operate very similarly -- the main differences between them are cost and appearance.

Solar panels have one function, they generate electricity. Solar shingles serve a dual purpose --they generate electricity and act as shingles -- which can make them less expensive in the long run.

Solar shingles are a great option in cases where clean, renewable energy is wanted, but without bulky solar panels on the roof.

Keeping with a legacy of leading in environmental practices, DCNR’s first solar array that was dedicated in 1979 was replaced with a new 5.67 kW solar shingle system on the park office at Mt. Pisgah State Park in Fall 2018.

This new system will supply enough energy to take the office to net zero energy consumption.


Roof-mounted solar array at Salt Springs State Park

A roof-mounted solar array is exactly as it sounds, solar panels mounted directly to the roof instead of mounted on a racking system on the ground.

A roof-mounted system is ideal in cases where space is not available for a solar array on the ground.

DCNR has several roof-mounted solar arrays that were chosen over a ground-mounted system because they lessen the environmental impact by adding to previously built infrastructure in the park or forest.

Roof-mounted solar arrays can be found at Salt Springs State Park, Caledonia State Park, Buchanan State Forest, and Weiser State Forest.


Off-grid solar array at Caledonia State Park

The phrase “off-grid” refers to solar array systems that have no connection with the electric utility grid and must make all the electricity necessary to service the respective loads in homes or buildings.

This kind of technology can be beneficial for supplying electricity to structures like sheds or barns when running a conventional power line is undesirable.

DCNR’s first off-grid, roof-mounted solar array was installed at Caledonia State Park on a previously non-electric restroom facility.

An off-grid solar array was chosen for this project due to the facility being located between two streams that would have been disrupted if the decision was made to run a power line under the stream to bring power to the building.

Aside from the negative environmental effects of running a powerline under the stream, it would have been four times the price of installing the solar array as well.

If you are visiting any of the facilities where we have solar, take a look and ask questions.

In 2019, DCNR will be working to add solar at:

  • Laurel Hill State Park
  • Ryerson Station State Park
  • Oil Creek State Park
  • Bald Eagle State Forest
  • Buchanan State Forest
  • Weiser State Forest

In addition, our staff in the Bureau of Facility Design and Construction are working to design more than a dozen more.

Where Would I Start if I’m Interested in Solar?

According to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), there are now more than 14,000 solar systems operating in Pennsylvania.

The PUC fact sheet Frequently Asked Questions About Solar Electricity (PDF) is a good source of information that is specific to Pennsylvania.

Here are some things to think about as you get started:

  • Is your roof suitable for solar
  • Finding a local company that installs solar panels
  • Should you work with neighbors to create community interest and improve rates
  • Checking in with your electric distributor on how to connect
  • Costs associated with installation

For more information, check the PUC Renewable Energy web page.

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