Solar, Storage Plant Powers Up At Iowa’s Maharishi University of Management

Maharishi University of Management’s (MUM) new solar-plus-storage plant, designed and installed by Ideal Energy Inc., powered up in mid-December in Fairfield, Iowa.

A 1.1 MW NEXTracker NX Horizon single-axis tracking array uses motors and a predictive algorithm to rotate the solar panels throughout the day to follow the sun’s path. The project also includes a 1.05 MWh battery energy storage system, which works in tandem with the solar enregy to reduce MUM’s energy costs by peak shaving – drawing power from the solar panels or batteries instead of from the grid during peak times of the day.

Congressman Dave Loebsack said at the energizing ceremony, “One of the more exciting things about this particular project is the battery storage aspect. This is leading us to the point where solar can be part of our baseload capacity. If we can not 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 baseload. And that is really exciting.”

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

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 and snow sensors will direct the system to rotate 60 degrees 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.

MUM’s new solar and storage plant, along with two smaller solar arrays and a small wind turbine, will bring the university’s renewable energy share to 43%, cutting 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, supporting bee and butterfly populations.

The project will also serve as an energy research facility. Ideal Energy, Iowa State University and MUM will conduct studies on solar production and battery storage with research grant funding provided by the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

“We’ve designed and built other solar-plus-storage arrays, but this is the most advanced so far,” says 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.”

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