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Design Features of the New Henry Doorly Zoo Solar Array

Morrissey Engineering provided project development, engineering, and construction administration services for a new 24kW elevated solar array at the Henry Doorly Zoo. The array is integrated into the top of a steel structure and is located at the Skyfari landing in the recently completed Africa themed area of the Zoo.

Here are four design features that make this solar installation noteworthy:

1. A shade structure for guests and staff – When considering potential locations for a solar array on campus of the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, it quickly becomes obvious that opportunities for ground mounted solar was extremely limited. Morrissey Engineering suggested that a structure to allow for dual use of the area and provide some shade. The Zoo was very receptive to the idea and placed a high value on additional shade that could be provided to both guests in the newly developed Africa Exhibit as well as staff working the Skyfari attraction.

The “before” picture demonstrates limited shade opportunities in newly remodeled areas of the Zoo while newly planted vegetation grows.

2. Appropriate for overall theme of the Africa exhibit – Several design parameters drove the height, tilt, and locating of the solar array. Chief among these considerations was a requirement that the array be appropriate for the area of the Zoo it resides in. Examples of these considerations were to keep the height from becoming an overbearing distraction from other elements of the area and to use angled iron with cross bracing to mimic the ingenuity required to use materials available in remote parts of Africa.

This tower at the Lion exhibit was originally designed to mimic the construction of lookout towers seen in Africa and influenced the design of the structure holding the solar array.

3. Educational – This project was partially funded with a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust. As part of this grant, a focused education element exists that consists of a newly developed K-12 curriculum, a public electronic display (forthcoming in the Lion Viewing Building), and a hands-on display movable panel display that will be located in the area. Performance of the electricity generating system will be available online and at the electronic display by way of a metering system included with the array.

Red area indicates energy used from the utility grid, green area indicates solar energy furnished to the utility grid, and clear area under the red line indicates solar energy used on-site

4. Special-feature panels – It is hard to miss the unique panels used for this solar array. What is most obvious is that the panels are glass on both sides, and that there is no metal frame outlining the panels. What is not as obvious is that these panels are very efficient at converting sunlight into electrical energy compared to standard solar panels – a feature that helped keep the array capacity high while keeping the overall area supported in check. In addition – the dual-glass arrangement makes for an aesthetically pleasing installation with very recognizable solar cell for any guests who happen to look up.

Solar panels that are glass on both sides and “frameless” are showcased with a short cantilever off the edge of the support structure.