HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - If you're driving along Highway 701 near Bucksport, you will pass a 10 acre farm. Instead of cows and corn, it is filled with nearly 6,000 solar panels. This network of panels is known as the "Bell Bay Solar Farm" and is owned and operated by Santee Cooper as part of its Green Power Initiative.
"We did look at it a little bit differently, and we tried something new and that is because we want to learn. And we want to find new and more inventive ways to capture the sun," says Susan Mungo with Santee Cooper.
The sun is a hot commodity along the Grand Strand, and as Mungo explains, it's being converted to energy you can use.
"Energy from the sun comes to these panels, and is in the form of DC (direct current) energy. That DC energy goes into inverters here on the solar farm and those inverters change it to AC power. That AC power, we have a distribution substation very close. The AC Power is then sent to that distribution substation, for that energy to be supplied to our customers."
"DC" or "direct current" provides energy at a constant voltage. To power homes and businesses, the voltage needs to be adjusted. That's why it goes through an inverter to become "AC", or "alternating current."
When the sun is at full power, Mungo adds it can power an entire neighborhood.
"It will produce about 2800 MegaWatts of power annually, but what that will do is power about 205 South Carolina farms."
For solar power to be effective, the sun needs to be out. But, on days when the Grand Strand isn't sunny…
"We have to have backup for those situations, we have to have energy in reserve to keep supplying reliable energy to our customers," Mungo adds.
But figuring out ways to preserve that energy—is something they need to improve upon.
"One of the challenges is how to capture that energy and save it for a rainy day or nighttime. So I think that as we learn and as we grow, as the industry continues to become more innovative and find new ways to do things, the possibilities for solar are huge," says Mungo.
One of the solutions to maximize the farm's solar power output is the angle of the panels.
"When we are seeing a large load, from air conditioners and things like that in the hot and humid South. So these panels are positioned so they can get the most advantage, the most hot sun during the summer time."
If there is more energy than can be used, it goes to the grid and from there it goes to wherever it's needed.
Santee Cooper, with Alder Energy, started construction on the project last summer. Full power output from the farm started in January.
Funding to construct the project was covered by Santee Cooper's Green Power program, a small additional and optional monthly rate to invest in renewable energy in South Carolina.
Mungo says, "The money through our Green Power Initiative goes to fund other renewables and that is what has happened here at Bell Bay. We have used some of those funds to offset the construction costs for this solar farm. This solar farm in turn is going to use the sun to produce energy to benefit our customers."
Solar Share Program: http://www.santeecoopersolar.com/solar-share/