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Gemini Installs Record-Breaking Rooftop PV Solar Panel System

September 10, 2015

Gemini Observatory Press Release

For Immediate Release on September 10, 2015

Media Contacts:

  • Alexis Acohido
    Public Information and Outreach
    Gemini Observatory, Hilo, HI
    Email: aacohido"at"
    Phone: (808) 974-2510

Science Contacts:

Continuing Gemini Observatory’s commitment to the positive stewardship of our planet, Gemini leads in the use of renewable energy sources on Maunakea.

Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawai‘i has finished the installation of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on the roof of its telescope on Maunakea this week. The PV panels were installed by Maui Pacific Solar and took about six weeks to complete.

"The PV panels [on Maunakea] are the second highest in the world by about 200 feet [~61 meters]. The highest are in Tibet." says Maui Pacific Solar Founder and President Mike Carroll. "However, it is the highest rooftop mounted PV system in the world that is connected to the utility."

The solar panels will (conservatively) generate about 10% of the power required to operate the Maunakea facility, and will be roughly 70% more energy productive than the panels planned for installation on the roof of the observatory’s base facility in Hilo.

The table below shows a side-by-side comparison of PV panel installation at the Hilo Base Facility versus the Gemini North telescope on Maunakea. The reason for this productivity boost on Maunakea is a combination of clear skies, lower temperatures, and less absorption in the atmosphere.

HiloMaunakeaResulting Benefit
Peak Sun Hours4.6 hours6.4 hours39%
Average Ambient Temperature80℉/26.7℃45℉/7.2℃10%
ElevationSea-level13,790 feet/4,203 meters10%

Employees of Maui Pacific Solar braved elevation fatigue and adverse weather to install the panels ahead of the anticipated November deadline.

"There are lots of challenges working at that high elevation. Not only are you working at about 60% of sea-level oxygen levels," says Carroll, “but it also snowed in July!"

Gemini Observatory continues to explore new ways to improve operational efficiency. "While PV panels require a significant investment," says Gemini Lead Engineer Chas Cavedoni, "we predict that the investment will be recovered in less than four years."

The solar panels are scheduled for connection to the electrical grid within a month.