The sun’s rays lift spirits and make flowers, fruits and vegetables grow. The sun is also an abundant source of renewable energy when solar panels convert its radiance into electricity. To learn how big a role the sun can play in helping Wegmans Food Markets meet its energy needs, the company has placed solar panels on the roof of an office building near corporate headquarters and also built two arrays of solar panels at the Wegmans Organic Farm overlooking Canandaigua Lake in the Finger Lakes.
“Reducing our carbon footprint is an ongoing priority. Over the past few years we have made a lot of progress in reducing our electrical consumption, meanwhile researching different renewable energy options. We felt the time was right for us to try solar,” said Jason Wadsworth, sustainability coordinator at Wegmans. “Solar panel technology keeps improving. Solar energy installation costs have come down, and NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) incentives are available to offset some of the cost. So, we identified two locations that made sense as starting points.”
More than 2,000 solar panels on the roof of a Wegmans office building at 100 Market St. in Rochester are now in place and are expected to produce almost enough power for one month’s worth of electricity for that building per year – the equivalent of powering nearly 50 homes for one year.
An installation at the Wegmans Organic Farm will be completed this summer. One solar array next to the main barn may generate enough power to meet 100% of the barn’s energy needs over a year. The other array, near the farm’s high-tunnel greenhouses, will supply about three quarters of the energy needed to operate them. The total of more than 300 solar panels at the farm will provide about the same amount of energy it takes to power 10 homes annually.
“Harnessing more of the power of the sun to grow the beautiful leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers and root vegetables we have at the Organic Farm is a perfect fit,” says Eben Kennedy, produce group manager overseeing the farm. “Thanks to the solar panels, our barn and high-tunnel greenhouses will extend the growing season at very little energy cost. That’s a triple win for us: it’s good for the environment, good for the business, and good for people.”
The NYSERDA funding was through the NY-Sun initiative, which is providing $1 billion to significantly expand solar capacity throughout the state and transform New York’s solar industry to a sustainable, subsidy-free sector. NY-Sun is part of Governor Cuomo’s commitment to protect the environment and lower energy costs for all New Yorkers by improving the efficiency and reliability of the electric grid.
Here’s how solar panels work:
- The sun’s rays strike the solar panels, which convert their energy into direct current electricity. (The panels generate more electricity on sunny days, but can still produce minimal power under cloudy conditions.)
- An “inverter” linked to the panels changes the direct current electricity into alternating current, the type of electricity used for heating and cooling systems, lighting, and appliances.
- During the day, the solar panels can produce more electricity than the building needs. The excess power goes back onto the utility electrical grid and the utility meter spins in reverse.
“Using a bi-directional electrical meter to track the amount of power the building is consuming from the utility company versus how much it consumes from the solar panels is called ‘net metering,’” says Wegmans’ Scott Preston, facilities design project engineer. “At times when the building is using more power than the solar panels are producing, the building draws electricity from the utility and the meter spins forward.”
“We’re very pleased to explore how clean, solar energy can take us further along the sustainability path,” said Wadsworth. “We’ll learn more about how this technology works for us and make better decisions in the future about when and where solar energy makes sense. We’ve learned that over time even little steps can add up to a very big difference.”