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Solar Panels at High Altitude on Hawaii’s Big Island

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February 1, 2021
solar panels in front of Keck dome
Photo by Mark Devenot.

In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint and in line with their desire to be “good stewards of the planet,” the W. M. Keck Observatory on Hawaii’s Big Island now has 332 solar panels. The panels will provide 259.1 MWh of power annually, or about 10-15% of the observatory’s energy requirements.

Duke Energy’s REC Solar company, who installed the panels, had to contend with several particularly difficult factors. First, the panels are 13,600 ft. above sea level, which is reportedly the highest a solar panel array of this size has ever been installed. High wind gusts are typical several times a year, so wind resistance was a major consideration. The 20,940-sq.-ft. ballasted roof has no structural framework to which the system can be anchored, so specialized mechanical attachments were created. When it came time for the actual installation, there was also the issue of working at such a high elevation, where there is about 40% less oxygen than at sea level.

The panels are “strategically located” between two of the observatory’s domes, Keck I and Keck II, to prevent ice and snow from atop the domes from impacting the solar panels.

Watch a brief video below.

Keck Observatory Completes Solar PV Project on Maunakea from Keck Observatory on Vimeo.

—, Daily Energy Insider