In addition to providing a third of the electricity on campus, Maharishi University of Management’s new 1.1 megawatt solar array will offer the state of Iowa an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of an innovative combination of solar power and battery storage, thanks to a $200,000 grant.

Funded by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and awarded to the Fairfield Economic Development Association (FEDA), the grant will compare the performance of MUM’s solar/battery system with that of Fairfield’s Agri-Industrial Plastics Company.

The study, which will be conducted by FEDA and Ideal Energy, will evaluate return on investment, operation and maintenance issues, battery performance, and effectiveness of solar tracking.

MUM’s system will track the movement of the sun across the sky and reorient the panels to get the maximum effect. This tracking yields up to  25% more energy than a fixed array.

The campus array will be connected to a vanadium flow battery to store energy. This approach offers almost unlimited energy capacity by using larger electrolyte storage tanks. It’s safe and non-flammable, and the storage capacity doesn’t degrade over its 25-year lifespan.

It is the largest solar/battery storage project in Iowa.

The lithium ion battery in Agri-Industrial’s system is suited for high fluctuations in energy use. It can deliver large amounts of energy in a short time, and may be less expensive than vanadium flow. However, its capacity declines over time.

A state-level committee will evaluate the findings of this research project and consider how to widely apply the lessons learned.

Iowa is already a leader in renewable energy. The state’s large wind farms rank second in the nation, and there is now also a push toward solar energy.

The advantage of battery storage is that the stored electricity will be available at night and at other times when there is little sun. In addition, the system will cut down MUM’s energy costs by reducing electricity consumption during peak usage times, such as summer afternoons.

Those peak charges determine the rate a customer pays, and can increase costs 30–70% for the entire year. Battery energy storage systems automatically detect when power usage exceeds a predetermined threshold and then switch to batteries until the additional demand is over.

Then when demand is lower, the batteries recharge.

The 35 batteries for the MUM array will be at the solar field itself, with a battery and inverter at the end of each row of solar panels.

The array is connected to MUM’s power substation on the east side of the Recreation Center.

The solar arrays and battery storage systems for both MUM and for Agri-Industrial are being installed by Ideal Energy, a Fairfield-based company founded by alumni Troy and Amy (Greenfield) Van Beek. It is one of Iowa’s leading solar energy firms and is the first in the state to design and build combination solar and battery systems.

The MUM solar array is expected to go online in December. There are tentative plans to inaugurate the array with an event that may include Nobel laureate Rajendra Kumar Pachauri and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.