Merck wants to go solar

June 23, 2008

 

As reported in NJ.com

 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

 

By Veronica Slaght

 

READINGTON TWP. — By the end of this year, Merck & Co. could start growing an unusual crop — clean energy — from a seven-acre field of solar panels. The drug corporation hopes to install the solar panels out of sight of the road on the north end of its 1,003-acre headquarters off Route 523, pending approval by the township Planning Board.

 

The board responded favorably to their concept proposal Monday night, and unanimously decided that a variance isn’t needed for the project, at the recommendation of board attorney Valerie Kimson. SunPower Corp., which would install the system for Merck, said they will return to the board with a formal site plan in the coming weeks.

 

According to Igor Saulsky, senior project development manager for SunPower, the panels would generate from 6 to 10% of the electricity used by Merck. None of the power would be exported off the property. The system will be installed near the existing electric substations.

 

Mr. Saulsky, a Tewksbury resident, said the panels would harness about two million kilowatt hours of energy a year. The average American household consumes around 10,000 kilowatt hours a year, according to the federal Department of Energy, so these panels could run about 200 homes per year.

 

They would be attached to long axles and set up in rows, with a small motor rotating them so that they’re always facing the sun. They’d be stored in a tilted position at night, so any rainwater could run off. According to Mr. Saulsky, the panels won’t prevent rainwater from getting to the soil. They’re installed by drilling very small holes in the ground. Grass will be able to grow around and underneath the installation. He’s even seen sheep grazing between the panels of a similar system they set up in Europe. The panels aren’t very reflective because they’re designed to absorb light, “like a roach motel for photons,” said Mr. Saulsky.

 

Township Committeewoman Julia Allen, a board member, when this technology will become obsolete. Mr. Saulsky said solar panels are “very mature” — they’ve been around since 1954 — so the technology doesn’t change that much, and the life projection for this system is 30 years or more. Board member Cheryl Filler wanted to know whether any trees would be cut down. Some other board concerns are whether the system will increase impervious coverage and whether it will meet setback requirements.

Merck would like to put in the panels by the end of the year because the company wants to make use of federal tax credits that will expire.

 

The field of panels would be constructed by SunPower, under contract with Merck, but United Technologies would finance, own and maintain the system. SunPower is a 3,000-employee company that’s built 450 large-scale solar installations like this one all over the world.

 

Note:

 

Although our company is not providing the solar installation, we wanted to keep you informed of the growing interest in solar energy. NJ has taken the lead nationally to provide incentives to raise the level of interest in alternative energy.

 

Would you like to know more about the solar evolution? Email george@hbsadvantage.com