homepage logo

Sea School first island business to install solar panels

By Staff | May 4, 2016

The Sanibel Sea School began installing a photovoltaic solar system at the beginning of April. PHOTO PROVIDED

The first commercial installation of a photovoltaic solar system is nearing completion at the east end of Sanibel at a flagship campus located on Periwinkle Way.

“The solar component is mission driven . . . enhance the lives of kids and save the ocean,” Sanibel Sea School Co-Founder and Executive Director Bruce Neill said.

He said the idea of incorporating solar panels onto the roof initially formed when the nonprofit marine conservation foundation began. He said according to their bylaws they are required to operate as environmentally and efficiently as feasibly possible.

Some of the environmental conscious improvements already applied include organic cotton T-shirts sold within the retail shop, as well as no plastic water bottles allowed on the campus.

With carbon dioxide being one of the major threats to the ocean, the decision to install solar panels was an easy one, due to their bylaws.

“We live in the sunshine state,” he said, which means electricity could be made through the solar panels.

Neill said carbon dioxide is rapidly changing the temperature and PH levels of the ocean.

“There is no debate of climate change,” he said, adding that one of the driving forces behind climate change is carbon dioxide produced predominately by cars and electricity.

In 2014, Neill sat down with Rudy Wodrich in an effort to discuss the options of becoming a carbon negative building. Neill said in other words, they would reduce the amount of carbon being put into the world through having a carbon negative building.

“Our goal is to be carbon negative. To make more carbon from the sun than utilize,” he said. “We want to be a role model for other businesses to do the same. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, the Florida economy will be absolutely challenged in the next two, three decades.”

Installing solar panels came down to being smarter stewards in regards to doing what is required, so the future can be sustained.

The solar project was initially funded by a grant from the Bill Healy Foundation. Neill said the total cost of the project is $55,000 due to many in the solar industry donating a great deal of components to make the project happen. He said they believe their payoff time will be in seven years.

The exciting part of that is now the Sanibel Sea School can take their electrical monthly expenses and pour it into their mission, “improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time.” The money saved can go towards educating and enriching the lives of more kids, while improving the ocean.

“We believe in visible technology. We ought to be proud of the fact that we are using solar electricity,” Neill said.

Wodrich and Dell Jones are the primary contractors of the project, with Solar Utility Partners Engineering, Procurement & Construction.

“I have three kids and they all went to the Sanibel Sea School when they were younger. They have been really good to us,” he said. “It’s a great cause. (They are doing a) wonderful job educating kids and adults about conservation, ecology and managing the ocean as a natural resource. This is just something that plays into that . . . leaving a minimal footprint on the earth because we are just visitors here.”

Other suppliers contributing to the project include solar modules by Canadian Solar; donated PV wire and string combiner boxes by Shoals Technology; racking and mounting components by US Solar; structural design engineering by Norman J Scheel; labor by Advance Labor; electrical work by Sanibel Air & Electric and interconnection approval by LCEC. The Plank-DiCarlo Family Foundation helped secure a mortgage for Sanibel Sea School’s building.

“I want to thank all the sub suppliers who donated, or deeply discounted equipment and services to allow us to complete this project in the most economical way possible for such a worthwhile organization as the Sanibel Sea School,” Wodrich said. “Canadian Solar was particularly helpful with the solar panels.”

Wodrich said they physically started working on the system three weeks ago as a part-time project.

“By the end of this weekend all the solar panels will be mounted and wiring complete down to the converters,” he said Tuesday, April 26. “About 65 percent of the panels are mounted. At the end of the weekend we will be at 90 percent complete.”

The installation includes a 21 kilowatt photovoltaic solar array using 84×250 watt modules from Canadian Solar, Balance-of-System components from Shoals Technology and Snap-n-Rack.

The final interconnection and permission to energize the system, Woodrich hopes will take place by May 15. He said they will essentially start saving money immediately.

Neill said in addition, they will add smaller panels on the front porch of the Sanibel Sea School to generate electricity for the light bulbs. He said they want residents and visitors to see solar panels in use. In the future, car charging stations will also be located in the parking lot.

Wodrich said they are making education module (slides) about renewable energy and solar, which the Sanibel Sea School can use with their campers. A monitoring system is also being installed to allow the Sanibel Sea School with the ability to see how much energy the panels are generating for them.

The project goes beyond installing panels because Neill said they also have to find ways to use less electricity. One of those ways includes changing fluorescent light bulbs with LED lights.

For more information about the Sanibel Sea School, visit www.sanibelseaschool.org, or contact info@sanibelseaschool.org.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.