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Florida’s Pigeon Key goes solar in hurricane country

The installation on Pigeon Key, courtesy SALTPigeon Key, an off-grid island accessible only by a 2 mile pedestrian bridge or water, eschewed diesel generators in favor of a new 24 kilowatt photovoltaic array with battery backup to provide most of its energy. The installation was completed with MAGE SOLAR modules and equipment by installer SALT Service, Inc.

The key is home to the Pigeon Key Foundation’s Marine Science Center and seven of the island’s twelve buildings are on the national register of historic places. It was also a camp for up to 400 railroad workers when Henry Flagler invested a fortune in building the Overseas Railway connecting Key West with Key Largo, which was completed in 1912.

The foundation opted for solar over diesel for a number of reasons.“The diesel system, while revolutionary when it was installed, became an increasing environmental and financial liability. Our mission is to protect our natural resources and with this new power source we will continue to inspire a new generation of environmental stewards,” said Pigeon Key Foundation Chairman Jason Koler. “The installation of solar power was a natural choice.” That choice was made easier by a grant from Florida’s Tourist Development Committee which covered half the system’s costs.

The array, which powers between 70 percent and 100 percent of the key’s needs consists of 96 MAGE PV modules mounted on a 1,700 square foot canopy designed to withstand 180 mph wind loads. It also has a battery backup that provides power during cloudy periods and at night. It consists of two 48 Volt, 24 cell units designed to power forklifts. The whole thing was transported by boat.

A secondary installation is planned. “Phase 2 will ensure that even during the summer season with a maximum number of tourists and high AC usage all electricity will still be generated from solar,” said MAGE SOLAR spokesperson Susanne Fischer-Quinn. “The Foundation is very keen on eliminating the need for any generators (they have been commenting on how wonderfully quiet it is without them!), so this subsequent phase will more than likely double the size of the initial array, bringing the total kW up to 48 and also doubling the battery bank in the process,” she said.      
As noted above the system was designed for an extreme environment, which the key has faced in the past. “Back in 1935, the ‘Labor Day Storm’ destroyed Flagler’s railroad in the Upper Keys with its 185 mph winds, resulting in more than 400 deaths,” Fischer-Quinn said. “Although there has not been a hurricane of this size since then, the array is designed to withstand category 5 storms (the highest storm level in the National Hurricane’s rating system, the Saffir-Simpson scale).”

While the array was designed for extreme conditions, it used MAGE’s standard modules. “All of them are engineered and designed to withstand maximum weather exposure (actually they are guaranteed to generate 80 percent power output at year 30!),” Fischer-Quinn said. They also use high-quality glass, but she added that any object striking a module at 185 mph speed would destroy the glass on the module. 

(Image courtesy of SALT)

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