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Solar powers fraction of Beck Ag Center

No tour of Purdue University’s Agronomic Research Center is complete without seeing the shiny glass panels located west of the Beck Ag Center. What is that rectangular contraption doing there, anyway?

“It’s collecting solar energy,” says Jim Beaty, superintendent of the Agronomic Research Center. “The utility company put it in as part of a demonstration project that they’re funded to do.”

The solar panels collect solar energy, and the electricity generated actually goes on the grid that powers the Beck Ag Center, Beaty explains. Solar is one of the shining stars of the alternative energy crowd.

Key Points

• Purdue Agronomy farm is the site of a solar collector demonstration.

• A small panel produces a fraction of the electrical needs for Beck Ag Center.

• Electricity production from solar panels drops drastically in fall and winter.

A small kiosk with a computer screen located near the front entrance inside the building displays live information about the collector. You can determine how much electricity is generated at any time. It also graphs collection over time, including month by month, and even displays how much greenhouse gas is saved by not generating electricity by some other means.

Matter of scale

The rest of the story, however, Beaty says, is understanding exactly how much of the electricity needed in the building is actually produced by the collector. Cutting through the jargon, the short answer is that even on a sunny day, it’s only a small fraction of what’s needed to power the building.

That’s somewhat related to the size of the collector. However, based on watching results over time, Beaty estimates it could take a collector as large as the entire roof of the building to fully power all the building’s electrical need.

The real problem comes in the fall and winter, he says. When Beaty pulls up the amount of energy collected and electricity produced at the site, there are large dips in the bar chart from late fall through winter.

“It’s a neat demonstration of what’s possible, but it’s certainly not a solution to our total energy needs right now,” Beaty concludes.

Learn more about energy incentives

The state of Indiana is willing to reward you with property tax credits and various other incentives if you’re willing to install solar alternatives in your home. Incentives cover a wide number of options, including a solar-powered water heater.

Check out what’s available at


Proof in the readout: Jim Beaty examines data for the solar collector panel, displayed inside the Beck Ag Center.


Shiny collector: This demonstration unit at the Purdue Agronomic Research Center collects solar power that becomes electricity.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.