Tour Du Soleil: Atlantans Bike for Solar Energy During City’s First Bicycle Festival

Riders discuss the Sunshot research panels at Georgia Tech. Photo: Cameron Adams

This post is by Alex Solomon, a new SACE member who met us on the ride.

What better way to see clean energy in action than by bike? On June 9th, I joined 63 helmet-clad Atlantans to learn about solar energy in Georgia. One of several events in the first annual Atlanta Cycling Festival, SACE’s Bike for Solar, also known as Tour de Soleil, took cyclists 7 miles through urban Atlanta neighborhoods to see 4 unique solar array installations.

Rep. Scott Holcomb (left) surveys the Southface rooftop. Photo: Alex Solomon

The event kicked off at the headquarters of sustainable building non-profit Southface Energy Institute, just north of downtown Atlanta. Ride organizer Amelia Shenstone of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) welcomed the assembled crowd alongside Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols and State Representative Scott Holcomb. All three voiced their strong support for making Georgia a leader in solar power.

Before mounting our bikes, we climbed up to the roof, led by Southface Commercial Fellow Christina Parkhurst. The headquarters feature high-efficiency recycled building materials, passive heating and cooling, 75% water conservation, and a green rooftop which offers both increased insulation as well as a tranquil setting for its employees to take breaks outside. In addition to being a LEED platinum facility, the roof features a solar array that is not only offsetting part of the facility’s energy consumption, but is in fact made of recycled materials itself, as the array was salvaged from a BP gas station under deconstruction.

L-R: Amelia Shenstone, Joseph Goodman, Tim Echols, Pete Marte, Brion Fitzpatrick. Photos by Cameron Adams, Alex Solomon, Tim Echols

Hopping on our bikes, we crossed the I-75/85 corridor to the west side of Atlanta. On the southwest corner of the Georgia Tech campus, adjacent to a Norfolk Southern rail line stands the Georgia Tech Carbon Neutral  Energy Solutions (CNES) Laboratory. Over the din of the neighboring rail cars – carrying, among other things, coal – Brion Fitzpatrick of Inman Park-based firm Inman Solar provided an overview of the 296.4 kW array. The panels, made by Norcross’s Suniva (a company born out of Georgia Tech solar developments), provide enough energy to run all primary power at the lab. They are spread across the roof, the front face of the building, and in parking lot canopies which also provide shade. Before departing, Joseph Goodman, Senior Research Engineer at CNES, displayed a prototype racking system for solar panels that is material-lean, and thus reduces capital costs, making solar even more competitive with other energy sources.

The "Stegosaurus" powering the Fourth Ward Skate Park. Photo: Alex Solomon

Next, along Atlanta’s new Beltline trail, we stopped by the Fourth Ward Skate Park to check out a unique solar installation by Atlanta based Hannah Solar (see photo, right). Affectionately named “The Stegosaurus,” due to the angled orientation of the panels in series, Hannah’s CEO Pete Marte noted the array powers 50% of the park and its efficient LED lighting system.

Our final stop on the tour took us to the Ashley Auburn Pointe Apartment Complex, where, as Dakin Spain of West Midtown-based Radiance Solar explained, the 140 kW array that sits atop the angled roofs of the mid-rise complex use half of their power to offset costs of common space power needs, while the other half is sold back to the grid through Georgia Power’s buyback program. The array features solar modules from SunPower that are some of the most efficient available.

The Tour de Soleil was sponsored by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a regional non-profit advocating for energy choices that address climate change and create safe, healthy communities across the Southeast. The Atlanta Cycling Festival continues through June 14th and features several events daily – all centered around biking. To learn more, visit www.atlantacyclingfestival.com. You can see more pictures from the ride on Facebook here and here.

Alex Solomon is a power generation engineer, a supporter of clean energy, and a recent member of SACE. He is a competitive triathlete for Podium Multisport, and enjoys biking in and around his Midtown, Atlanta neighborhood.

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