Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Support Building

Whirlwind Steel Buildings Inc.

Solar metal roofing installations are still relatively few and far between. Solar metal wall applications are rarer still. But perhaps the recently completed solar metal wall installation on a building owned by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in Fairbanks, AK, will be the beginning of a trend. The building’s south wall was recently fitted with a solar array consisting of thin-film laminate photovoltaic panels and metal wall panels from Whirlwind Solar, a Division of Whirlwind Steel Buildings Inc., Houston, TX. The new solar wall also incorporates innovative thermal insulation techniques which will reduce energy consumption.

Laminated to Whirlwind’s Weather Snap metal wall panels, the solar panels are rated to produce 5.44 kW of electricity. The decision to use them on the project underscores the school district’s commitment to green technologies education.

Larry Morris of FNSBSD Facilities Management, said, “The Fairbanks North Star Borough has a long history of supporting alternative energy sources as well as technologies which will make for a cleaner and more energy efficient school district for our students and faculty."

Fred Reardon of Whirlwind Solar said the success of the project was a team effort. "Larry Morris and his team at Fairbanks North Star Borough Facilities developed a unique thermal wall design that incorporates new solar wall laminate technology. Larry came up with the idea, I made it a concept and Chuck Wiegers of A & A Roofing Co. Inc. took our conceptual design and made it a reality. A & A Roofing, by incorporating some metal craftsman know-how and architectural metals methods and materials expertise, created an economical and clean electricity generating wall system.

"I have been in the metals industry for 23 years and these are some of the most forward thinking, creative guys I have come across. You really need to think outside the box if you are going to solve problems and these gentlemen know how to do that,” Reardon added.

The thin-film photovoltaic laminate panels were manufactured in the United States by United Solar Ovonic LLC. of Rochester Hills, MI, and sold through Whirlwind Solar, their authorized distributor.

The solar wall installation is comprised of approximately 80 ¼”-thick photovoltaic laminate panels, each measuring 16” wide by 9’-4" long. The laminates are glued to the flat surface of the metal wall panels between their standing seam ribs. The decision to put them on the building’s south wall means the array will have the best possible exposure to the sun.

Thin-film solar laminate panels are extremely lightweight, weighing less than 1 lb/psf. The panels on the Fairbanks building cover approximately 1,000 sq. ft. and add about 1,000 lbs. to the wall system’s weight. Because the laminate panels are so effective at capturing light, the angle of installation is not as critical as with crystalline panels. Even with a less-than-optimal Tilt Angle (Slope) or Azimuth Angle (perfectly oriented South), they are able to create a great deal of electricity. Also, the solar laminate utilizes unique triple-junction amorphous silicon solar cells, where the blue, green and red light of the sun is absorbed in different layers of the cell. This technology results in better performance in low and diffuse light conditions. Solar laminates have been shown to provide outstanding energy production in high temperatures, low light levels, cloudy conditions, and shading.

The 5.44 kW array is part of the Golden Valley Electric Association's Sustainable Natural Alternative Power (SNAP) program. The SNAP program links members who want to produce renewable power within the Golden Valley Electric Association's service area with those who are willing to pay a little more each month to buy solar and wind power. Member contributions to the SNAP fund will be paid to the renewable energy producers in Interior Alaska. In addition to receiving their proportionate share of the fund, producers will also receive a percentage of the off-peak wholesale power rate for the power they produce.

To learn more about Whirlwind Solar’s thin-film building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) wall and roof systems, visit

About Whirlwind Steel Buildings

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