Public Housing Complex Becomes a Solar Pioneer


In the Villa Garcia public housing complex in San Jose, California (US) a formerly foreclosed federal housing complex has now been transformed into a public housing success story with a community solar installation.

After installing new roofs, floors, plumbing, electrical and landscaping (and a strict drug policy), the housing authority decided that the 80-unit complex would be a perfect place for the innovative solar program.

The complex on Clarendon Street now takes its power from a solar array on the roofs of its carports, using an advanced solar system that can monitor usage from every apartment in the complex.

The system is the brainchild of housing authority executive Josiah Denmark.

Using virtual net metering, a solar garden allows residents to take energy from a solar array miles away without having to put panels on their rooftops. The power is called virtual because it actually goes straight to the grid, not directly to the apartments. Meters for each unit allow Pacific Gas & Electric to measure power used by each apartment.

The solar project, which cost about $1 million for 72 panels, generates about 210 kilowatts of power for 82 residential units.  With San Jose’s plentiful sunshine, return on investment should be swift, according to Tyson Grul of Sunetric, the Hawaii-based company that installed the solar system. Sunetric is expanding its business on the mainland, with California a major market given its emphasis on clean energy.

The Villa Garcia solar project is also advanced in its use of micro inverters, which have several advantages over conventional central inverters. With micro inverters, small amounts of shade, debris or snow on any one solar panel, or even a complete panel failure, do not disproportionately reduce the output of the entire array.

Each micro-inverter harvests optimum power by performing maximum power point tracking for its connected panel. With conventional inverters, if one panel is shaded or fails, the rest won’t function any better.

Residents are delighted to have the most advanced solar system in the Bay Area shading their cars from the sun.

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