Senator Sanders Tours Williston Solar Testing Site

Oct 12, 2017

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Vermont Regional Test Center for Solar Technology is one of five in the country and the only one in the North.  Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders toured the site this morning.

The seven-acre solar research site, managed by Sandia National Laboratories, is capable of testing 300 kilowatts of various types of solar panels.  Some of the panels are provided by local manufacturers while others are installed by the DOE.

Senator Bernie Sanders took a private tour of the site with DOE and Sandia officials and then discussed the importance of renewable energy, especially solar, to the nation’s energy grid.   “Total investment in renewables last year was double the investment in fossil fuels. This my friends is the future of energy in this country and around the world.  Solar added more to our power mix in 2016 than any other energy source, and the average cost of solar dropped by 13% in just one year.  Increasingly, solar energy will be seen not just as an environmental and climate change imperative. It will be seen as a means to provide inexpensive energy.”

After his prepared remarks Senator Sanders excitedly led people back to a set of solar panels to relate what he learned about some of the innovative research being conducted on bifacial panels.  “You notice that these are different?  You see this?”
Laurie Burnham:  “So these are the bifacial modules.”
Sanders:  “This one right here?”
Laurie Burnham: “Yup.”
Sanders:  “Guys what is significant about this, this is producing electricity from this side and that side. That’s pretty exciting huh?”

Sandia Labs Principal Project Lead for the Regional Test Center Program Laurie Burnham explains that the bifacial panels collect energy on both sides.  “They capture the sun on the backside in the morning and they capture the sun in the afternoon so there are sort of two humps in terms of energy output for them. And overall that’s far more energy production than you get from any of the other orientations. So the applications for that kind of technology are multiple. I mean we’ve got them on the trackers to see how they’ll perform in winter with all the reflectivity from the snow. There is a possibility of integrating them into buildings, the vertical ones along highways or rail tracks.”

The testing site partners with regional energy providers including Green Mountain Power.  Vice President of Innovation Josh Castonguay says the current energy system is antiquated and this research facility is helping transform to a renewable energy delivery system.   “It’s a distributed, clean, resilient, affordable grid and it’s going to take a lot of different distributed energy resources to do that with solar being a key one of those.  So having a site here that continually helps to drive down the cost, drive up the efficiency, make it easier to install, pv (photovoltaic system or solar power system) is going to help us to move that much quicker to this transformed energy future. And that’s what our customers want to see is a continued drive to transforming this energy system.”

The testing facility is part of the DOE’s SunShot Initiative, which targets lowering the cost of solar generated electricity by 75 percent by 2020.   
The other DOE regional solar test centers are in Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.