Off-grid church ready for Mother Nature’s worst

This post was originally published in 2015. The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.

Rain or shine, grid or no grid, Mi-Wuk Village’s Word of Life Fellowship church will have power. What started as a way to help the church reduce its electrical bill grew to become a 70.5kW system with off-grid capabilities and battery backup.

In the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, Mi-Wuk Village experiences frequent power outages from severe winter storms, leaving the church campus unable to perform its alternate duties as a FEMA emergency personnel coordination site, the area’s Red Cross evacuation and warming center for those in need.

Solar changes everything
Sunny Boy TL-US inverters

Sunny Boy 5000TL-US inverters going through final checks before commissioning.

Offsetting nearly half of the church campus’ demands, the system makes power from 282 Canadian Solar 250-watt modules feeding six Sunny Boy 5000TL-US inverters with Secure Power Supply for grid-only operation and three Sunny Boy 6000-US inverters paired with three Sunny Island 6048-US inverters for grid-tied battery backup capabilities. In this configuration, all inverters can make power during grid failures given the Sunny Boy TL-US’ Secure Power Supply feature.

Without full-time residents, the church has almost no need for nighttime loads. This enabled them to greatly reduce the need for battery storage, only maintaining enough to provide reference voltage for the Sunny Boys during off-grid operation.

Thanks to California Solar Electric Company’s off-grid design expertise, the Sunny Islands are able to create a micro grid that can provide power to the entire campus to operate its critical loads. One of the most important loads is daytime HVAC, requiring three-phase power and limited battery power to buffer the large demands, a big reason why the Sunny Island was chosen to perform the micro-grid management.

“SMA was clearly the best option for this application. Given the scale and needed technology to make everything run smoothly, we knew what equipment was needed from day one,” said Lars Ortegren, owner of California Solar Electric Company. “This system is designed to work when nothing else does and to keep power flowing when emergencies happen. That calls for the dependability that only SMA can provide.”

Word of Life Church solar array

Modules soaking in the sunshine in Mi-Wuk Village. Courtesy of California Solar Electric.

Planning makes perfect

Given the mountainous hillside and thick forest, just getting the first modules in place proved to be challenge enough. Land had to be cleared, access created and ground-mount racking installed before trenching the rocky soil and much more.

After the work was completed, the 94,500 kWh system came to life and began making its owners happy from day one. With so much power coming from the sun, their diesel generators sit quietly, saving their fuel for a later day.

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