Avon science center’s solar system ready to glow | VailDaily.com

Avon science center’s solar system ready to glow

Workers from Conundrum Technologies, a local firm specializing in alternative energy, install some of the 192 solar panels on the new Walking Mountains Science Center buildings. Some will generate electricity and some will generate heat and hot water.

AVON, Colorado – You’ll find one of the area’s largest solar arrays installed on a building where people learn about nature.

The Walking Mountains Science Center is home to almost 200 solar panels: 136 photovoltaic panels that generate electricity, and 56 solar thermal panels that generate hot water and heat.

They’ll save around $6,000 a year, says Jason Perez of Conundrum Technologies, which designed and installed the system.

“Right now on commercial buildings the payback is three years. On a home it’s eight years,” Perez said. “People understand an eight-year payoff on a system that’s warrantied to last 25 years.”

“There are systems out there that have been around 35 years,” Perez said.

The Walking Mountains Science Center presented lots of what we’ll call “special” challenges.

Mounting the cells on the roof was an adventure because the brackets are vertical, not horizontal so you could stand on them like a ladder. So they roped themselves to the roof and tried not to fall. They didn’t. Neither did the solar cells.

The architect’s design is great, maximizing the panels’ power production, but the tolerances are tiny. Making everything fit was a lot like stuffing the Pittsburgh Steelers into a Pinto.

Still, they made it all fit and work. They’re waiting for the final inspection. They’ve cranked it up to test it and it does everything it’s supposed to do. They have two guys, one checking the other, Perez said.

They’re using American-made panels from Suniva. The company was founded by Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi of Georgia Tech’s University Center of Excellence in Photovoltaics. Suniva owns more than 40 granted and pending patents.

Rohatgi partnered with John Baumstark, who has a place in West Vail. They’re American made panels. Now Conundrum is doing Baumstark’s house in West Vail, a 1980s townhome that he’s upgrading, Perez said.

They were brought into the Walking Mountains project by R.A. Nelson, the local company building the project.

“The success of this project is the team involved and RA Nelson’s ability to work through some of the technical issues that came up,” Perez said.

Conundrum designs and installs technological systems for buildings. They also provide alternative energy systems, Perez said.

“We believe that by providing all the technological systems for the buildings, we have a first-hand ability to produce energy, so we understand how to reduce its consumption,” Perez said.

In other words: They produce it; so they know how to reduce it.

Western Colorado is probably the best place in the U.S. for solar energy, Perez said.

For that to be true, lots of things have to converge here.

“The number of sunny days we have, and the proximity to the sun and solar radiance is important, he said.

Our local utility company, Holy Cross, supports it through rebates.

Then, local governments tend to require a certain amount of energy efficiency in the commercial and residential buildings they approve.

“Alternative energy works best when incentive meets policy. In Vail and Colorado, we have the policy in place,” Perez said. “Local governments require it to a degree, and Holy Cross provides rebates for it.

“Put that with a customer who wants to do it, and that’s the best of all worlds,” Perez said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.