Amherst company eyes expansion of dual-use solar array system

  • In this August 2017 file photo, Stephen Herbert, professor of agriculture at University of Massachusetts Amherst, right, shows farmer Pat Canonica of Boxford how raised solar panels allow for the land underneath to remain in agriculture as vegetable gardens at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield. The system was designed in collabortion with Hyperion Systems, an Amherst company that is marketing the product to farmers throughout the Valley. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Kale grows last summer in a vegetable garden located underneath raised solar panels at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Stephen Herbert, professor of agriculture at UMass Amherst, left, and farmer Pat Canonica of Boxford walk past raised solar panels which allow for the land underneath to remain in agriculture as vegetable gardens in August 2017 at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Stephen Herbert, professor of agriculture at UMass Amherst, right, shows farmer Pat Canonica of Boxford how raised solar panels allow for the land underneath to remain in agriculture as vegetable gardens in August 2017 at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield. gazette file photo

  • Stephen Herbert, professor of agriculture at UMass Amherst, right, shows farmer Pat Canonica of Boxford how raised solar panels allow for the land underneath to remain in agriculture as vegetable gardens in August 2017 at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Hyperion has also done roof installations. This installation is in Amherst. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • A dual-use array in Belchertown, which supplies enough energy to meet the electrical demands for the businesses inside the building. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • This dual-use array in Hadley was the first commercial project for Hyperion. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • A dual-use solar array was installed in Florence, partially in a horse pasture and in part in the family garden. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Jake Marley co-owns Hyperion Systems LLC with his mom, Anne Marley. He took over the company from the late David Marley, who died in 2013. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 1/21/2018 6:24:14 PM

AMHERST — As special state incentives become available in 2018 for the installation of solar arrays on agricultural land, one local company stands ready to meet the needs of farmers who want to generate solar energy directly over productive farm land.

Developed by the late David Marley, owner of Amherst-based Diversified Construction Services and the solar construction company Hyperion Systems LLC, the unique “dual-use” solar array system allows for the grazing of farm animals or growing of crops underneath specially constructed high mounted solar panels.

Hyperion is currently marketing its dual-use systems predominantly to farms for use on pasturelands where cattle and other animals graze. The company is also using a grant from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to investigate the financial feasibility of dual-use arrays for agriculture where crops are grown beneath the arrays.

“This is a potential key to sustainable farming,” said Michael Lehan, owner of Berkshire Management Group and an advisor for Hyperion. “It is energy that can be used on the farm or net metered, so we are looking at it as an economic development tool.”

“Our task now is to start telling everybody about it, to start signing up farmers and to demonstrate that it is financially feasible,” Lehan said.

Patents secured

The Marley family holds nine patents for the dual-use design, and Hyperion has constructed two working dual-use solar arrays in the area that can serve as prime examples to interested farmers.

The first was a 17-kilowatt dual-use solar array test site built in 2011 as part of a collaboration with University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Steven Herbert and the university’s Crop and Animal Research and Education Center on North River Road in South Deerfield.

The second was a 100-kilowatt system constructed on Edwards Farm in Hadley in 2012.

For farmers, the incentives to invest in dual-use arrays are becoming more attractive thanks to incentives from the state.

In 2017 the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to create a new “Special Projects” section within the Agricultural Energy Grant Program.

The grants through the so-called ag-energy program now have a category specifically for dual-use solar installations on farmland, with the fiscal 2018 grant program funding up to $100,000 for qualifying projects.

This grant program is part of the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, which will change the way the state offers incentives for energy. SMART is replacing a net-metering SREC II program.

Inquiries up

Hyperion is now owned and operated by David Marley’s widow Anne Marley and their 23-year-old son, Jake Marley.

“We have been getting a lot of inquires from interested parties because people were reading about the new SMART plans, the grants, and the farm in South Deerfield,” Jake Marley said. “I just got an inquiry from an alpaca and llama farmer in central Mass that is showing interest.”

The design uses no concrete footings so the soil is not disturbed, and the solar panels can be easily adjusted to allow varying degrees of sunlight to reach the pasture or crops underneath.

The roughly 9-foot-tall systems are designed to allow livestock and farm machinery to pass underneath and to withstand high winds to an uplift rating of 120 mph.

“Dave really felt that renewable energy was paramount,” Anne Marley said. “He believed we are late, we are behind, and rather than waiting for the government to do it, we have got to make it happen.”

Lehan said that David Marley created Hyperion in 2008, spending hundreds of hours in the design and engineering of dual-use solar arrays and investing substantially in the test system that was collaboratively built at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Center.

“To make something like that happen when nobody has done it before, you really have to care about it and you really have to believe in it,” Lehan said.

Momentum and interest in dual-use systems began to build after the company’s first two installations, and Hyperion was preparing to market its design to farms in the region until a tragic setback stalled those plans.

In 2013, at age of 55, David Marley died from complications related to surgery for kidney cancer.

“After Dave’s death we had to focus completely on the construction business,” Anne Marley said, referring to Diversified Construction. “Now that Jake has finished college, he is gung-ho about getting solar back up and going again.”

Jake Marley attended Bryant University in Rhode Island, majoring in finance with double minor in environmental science and Spanish. During every break he would return home to work for the family construction company, so joining the family business was not a stretch.

Marley said that it was his experience studying in Barcelona, Spain, in 2015 that cemented his resolve to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“After seeing how sustainably they lived compared to us in the states, I knew I wanted to do something within that industry,” Marley said. “Hyperion was a perfect opportunity for me not only to continue my father’s legacy, but to also decrease carbon emissions in an impactful way.”

Marley’s decision to help reboot Hyperion came at the perfect time as the new Ag-Energy grant program was being rolled out.

“My goal is to get three installations for the spring and early summer, if we get more then we could scale up,” he said.

Marley is currently working on pricing for the systems and was not prepared to quote specific numbers when interviewed, noting that costs will vary depending on system and the individual needs and environmental conditions of each farm.

“What is more important, I believe, is that farmers can expect an 8 to 12 percent return on their investment annually,” he said.

Anne Marley said that she proud of her son for stepping into his father’s shoes

“The real driver for Dave was doing the right thing for planet Earth,” she said. “It is important to us that his contributions are remembered and that his ideals and his legacy continues.”




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