Iowa private university powers on 1.1 MW solar+storage system

Maharishi University of Management’s new solar power plant powered up for the first time Mid-December. The solar-plus-storage facility incorporates both single-axis tracking and vanadium-flow battery energy storage. Designed and installed by Ideal Energy, it is the first system of its kind in the Midwest.


“One of the more exciting things about this particular project is the battery storage aspect,” said congressman Dave Loebsack at the energizing ceremony. “This is leading us to the point where solar can be part of our base load capacity. If we cannot only generate electricity throughout the day, but also store it so that we could use solar energy 24 hours a day, then it is by definition part of base load, and that is really exciting.”

The 1.1-MW Nextracker NX Horizon single-axis tracking array generates about 15% more energy annually than a fixed-tilt array of comparable size. NX Horizon is capable of active tracking, which allows each row to operate independently to optimize solar production.

The project also includes a 1.05-MWh battery energy storage system, which works in tandem with solar energy to reduce MUM’s energy costs by ‘peak shaving’—drawing power from the solar panels or batteries instead of from the grid during expensive peak times of the day.

The power plant uses NX Flow Avalon batteries which are ideal for large solar power plants because their capacity and performance does not degrade over time.

“We’ve designed and built other solar plus storage arrays, but this is the most advanced so far,” said Troy Van Beek, founder and CEO of Ideal Energy. “It perfectly matches MUM’s needs and checks all the boxes—tracking, battery energy storage, and artificial intelligence.”

The power plant uses an intelligent tracker control system. In addition to following the sun, each row of solar panels acts as a data collection sensor. These sensors are linked to one another, as well as to network control units, with a wireless mesh network. A central energy management system integrates performance metrics from these sensors with weather data from four on-site weather stations. Wind sensors and snow sensors will direct the system to rotate 60° westward during high winds to protect the panels, or to shed snow during winter storms.

A predictive algorithm uses data from the weather stations and other sensors to optimize the performance of each row. Each row can move independently to compensate for shading, weather conditions, or the topography of the site in real time. This capability makes the energy facility among the most advanced and efficient solar arrays in the nation.

Commitment to Sustainability

MUM’s new solar and storage power plant, along with two smaller solar arrays and a small wind turbine, will bring the university’s renewable energy share to 43%. It will directly power one-third of the campus’s electricity usage. By combining active tracking technology with battery energy storage MUM will cut its electric utility costs by a projected 30%.

To further enhance the sustainability of the project, the ground beneath the five acre array will be seeded with pollinator plants in early 2019. These native plants will support bee and butterfly populations.

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