COLLEGEVILLE, Minn -- Raised in Africa and Spain, Mario Monesterio and subzero weather are a contrast in itself.
Not unlike his latest project.
It sits at the edge of the St. John's University campus: 2½ acres of solar panels put up this past fall in a cornfield, generating photovoltaic electricity and challenging assumptions about solar energy and the cold.
"The solar panels work better under cold environments than they do in warm environments," says Monesterio, co-owner of Eden Prairie based Westwood Renewables. Westwood is fighting perceptions that solar is best suited for southern climates. "In fact, we can produce more energy on a cold winter day, on a per kilowatt basis, than in Texas or California and other places."
More than 1800 panels track with the sun, generating enough electricity at peak hours to power 20 percent of the St. John's campus, or the equivalent of 65 homes.
Monesterio believes solar could one day compete with wind as a source of alternative energy in Minnesota. Xcel Energy has funded three-quarters of the $3 million St. John's project.
To be sure, southern climates offer more hours of sunlight, but Monesterio says modern solar equipment will generate electricity more efficiently in the cold. In fact the blanket of snow beneath the panels provides additional reflected sunlight.
It's enough to warm the heart of an African-born engineer. "I have learned to love the cold even more so recently than in the past."
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