Williston, Vt. — A seven-acre field in Williston is being converted into an outdoor laboratory where scientists and engineers will study the effectiveness of solar panels when used in areas known for bad weather and long, cold winters, officials said Monday.
Once construction is complete, the field will accommodate panels capable of converting sunlight into as much as 300 kilowatts of solar power.
The Vermont location, near the popular Taft Corners retail area, will be funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. It is one of five similar test locations across the country where solar panels will be tested under different climactic conditions.
The initiative has a goal of reducing the cost of solar energy by 75 percent by 2020 and helping the country get 15 percent of its electricity from the sun by 2030.
“The sun shines in all 50 states,” said Minh Le, program manager of the federal government’s Solar Energy Technologies Program. He noted at Monday’s event that the current world leader in solar power production is Germany, which gets about as much sun as Alaska.
“When you imagine that solar can be a significant part of Germany’s electricity grid, it can also do that in the United States, and we have a lot more sun than Germany,” Le said.
State and federal officials who announced the creation of the Vermont Photovoltaic Regional Test Center on Monday are hoping test results lead to a reduced cost of solar energy and help Vermont continue its effort to find alternative sources of electricity and expand the energy efficient smart-grid electrical system.
The broader goal is to reduce the use of fossil fuels and reduce global warming while creating jobs.
The panels will be installed by various manufacturers while their performance will be monitored by scientists from the Sandia National Laboratories and other organizations.
The Williston location is a partnership of the Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratories, IBM and the state of Vermont. The project also is being supported by Green Mountain Power and the University of Vermont.
“Vermont is the perfect place for a test center focused on solar and the smart-grid,” said independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has helped lead the push to get the Department of Energy to choose the state for the test site. “We have a state government under Gov. (Peter) Shumlin and local governments throughout the state that welcome opportunities to test and deploy cutting edge technologies.”