Small Scale Off-Grid Solar Applications

Sponsor: ReMain Nantucket
Sponsor Liaison: Virna Gonzalez, Rachel Hobart, Cecil Barron Jensen, Jenn King
Student Team: Keith DeSantis, Garrett Devlin, Alicia Salvalzo, Blaise Schroeder
Abstract: Residential solar photovoltaic systems are becoming increasingly popular on Nantucket as a way to promote sustainability and reduce demands on the electrical grid. However, there has been little attention paid to small-scale, off grid solar systems. ReMain Nantucket sponsored this project to research the feasibility of small-scale, off-grid solar applications on Nantucket with the goal of increasing public awareness of solar power. We interviewed key stakeholders across the island, researched current practices in solar power, and distributed a public survey to better understand the public’s opinion on solar power, as well as several possible solar applications. We conclude by recommending applications and incentives for ReMain to pursue.

Final Report: ReMain IQP Final Report

Final Presentation: Final Presentation ReMain

Executive Summary

Residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are becoming more common on Nantucket as residents and town officials look to make the island more sustainable and avoid the need for a third undersea electric cable. In contrast to the large scale and grid tied systems that have been the focus of the majority of the previous PV systems, the goal of this project was to evaluate the feasibility of small-scale, off-grid solar projects on Nantucket as a potential way to both reduce peak demand and raise public awareness of solar power’s capabilities on island. To achieve this goal we developed these four project objectives:

1. Review the current and best practices for the implementation of small-scale solar PV applications in New England and elsewhere.
2. Evaluate the barriers and incentives to off-grid solar installations on Nantucket.
3. Assess the benefits and limitations of possible applications of small-scale solar on island.
4. Provide promotional and informational guides for the most beneficial off-grid solar applications.

Based on our goals and objectives we developed subtasks. Interviews, surveys, site visits, background research and data collection/assessment were the primary tasks associated with addressing the objectives of this project. 

Conclusions, Recommendations, and Key Findings
From the interviews conducted and survey data gathered, we developed the following observations. First, based on background research and previous studies, we concluded that solar PV systems have become increasingly popular on Nantucket with most attention being placed on residential solar installations. Based on our survey results, the public has little to no issue with solar panels being visible outside of Sconset and the downtown, and are a bit more conservative when discussing panels within these areas.

Second, there are many potential small-scale, off-grid applications that could be implemented on Nantucket, though each comes with unique limitations. Based on technical and legal restrictions and public reception, we determined that solar pergolas, trash compactors, and golf cart charging systems were the most feasible applications. Some other applications showed promise but could face much opposition from the community due to concerns about their aesthetic impact. One such application was solar parking kiosks, which could be used in lieu of individual parking meters if paid parking was to be implemented in the downtown area. However, parking is currently free on Nantucket, and the transition to paid parking is a topic of debate.

Third and finally, after discussion with Tim Carruthers of ACK Smart, we concluded that caution must be practiced when pursuing off-grid solar projects on Nantucket. Off-grid solar is a relatively unexplored and unregulated field on the island. The breakthrough projects into the field must be well-received in order to pave the way for future small-scale, off-grid solar endeavors.

Based on our conclusions, we provided the following recommendations:

1. We recommend the DPW continue to apply for grants to replace Bigbellys on island, and work to install additional compactors at popular public parking lots and other venues outside of the historic cores.
The DPW has asked for funding to replace the bins at the five locations that have Bigbelly trash compactors on island. The lifespan of the barrels is about 6 to 10 years and the technology of the bins themselves have improved drastically since their initial installation. According to Recycling/Solid Waste Coordinator Graeme Durovich, the DPW has requested $151,000 to replace all of the existing bins. We feel that the wider deployment of compactors could save the DPW time and money, while simultaneously promoting solar power’s usage. Such trash compactors were found to be the most favorable while also having the least negative visual impact on the aesthetic of the island. They were well received by both full time and seasonal residents who took the survey. From this data, we concluded that trash compactors will have the least pushback from the public and the most potential to have a positive impact on Nantucket.

2. We recommend that ReMain Nantucket publicize the current solar pergola construction at The Corner Table Cafe as an example of the benefits of small-scale solar and identify potential new locations to encourage projects.
Considering ReMain is already familiar with installing pergolas and have had success with them in the past, we feel that they should promote their installation and use. We know that these pergolas are compliant with HDC regulations as long as they are constructed high enough so the panels are not visible from the street. As solar power has become more popular on the island, many stakeholders agree that the HDC’s approach to applications has evolved, as all parties involved work to find a middle ground between preserving the island’s signature character and moving the community forward in terms of sustainability. Solar pergolas are an aesthetically viable option that would both preserve the island’s aesthetic and encourage solar usage.

3. We recommend that local golf courses pursue the gradual adoption of charging their golf carts, among other elements such as clubhouses and irrigation systems with solar PV systems.
The island has several golf courses: Miacomet, Siasconset, Nantucket, and Sankaty Head. Courses could implement pergolas or garages away from the public view and would operate similarly to the pergola at Wheels of Delight that has a roof-mounted solar array to charge their bikes. Typically, the HDC reviews and approves or denies all publicly visible solar installations to ensure they do not detract from the island’s character. However, their jurisdiction only applies to permanent architectural structures that are visible from a publicly traveled way. The golf courses on the island are relatively secluded from the public eye. Due to this, the level of HDC involvement would most likely be limited, if present at all. This gives golf courses unique potential for solar development.

4. We recommend that the Town of Nantucket conduct further research into the topic of paid parking in the Nantucket downtown area (either seasonal or yearly) and that solar powered parking kiosks be considered in lieu of individual parking meters.
We understand that paid parking currently does not exist on Nantucket and that there is a desire for it to remain this way. However, research could be conducted to better understand if paid parking could help reduce the traffic issue in the downtown area. If so, parking kiosks could help solve the public parking issue while also promoting solar on the island.

5. We recommend that ReMain purchases and lends out a solar generator, similar to ACK Smart’s “Solar Flower” for public and private events around town.
A solar generator would be an effective public relation tool for ReMain. The generator would highlight the potential for solar power on the island and could be designed with the ReMain logo to help promote their organization. Based on interviews with members of local solar installer ACK Smart, who had owned and used a similar generator, the device is a powerful public relations tool, generating excitement in the community and finding a surprising amount of uses.