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Carports with Solar Panels do Double Duty for Navy

May 14, 2010 - 12:22pm


At Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, heat is a fact of life. The base is located on the edge of the Mojave Desert near Ridgecrest, Calif., where the blistering summer heat can actually peel the paint off cars. Longtime desert residents know how to deal with it, but thanks to an ongoing environmental program, many base employees no longer have to do so. Since 2007, China Lake has been building carports that don’t just deflect heat — they also absorb it and turn it into electricity using a series of photovoltaic solar panels lining the tops of the carports.

“They are very, very appreciated, because if you park in the sun, you have peeling paint and leather, and the seats can be very, very hot,” says Peggy Shoaf, public affairs program manager for the base. “The carports really do provide quite a bit of shade and lower the temperature in the vehicle by at least 20 degrees.”

They also provide a combined total of 344 MWh of electricity annually. China Lake recently broke ground on three more sets of carports, using Recovery Act funds. Separate funding went to solar panels at other buildings on base. In total, all of China Lake’s solar PV projects generate enough electricity a year to power up to 1,200 houses on the grid provided by Southern California Edison, the local utility. The base estimates that it saves about $557,000 a year from the solar panels.

“We are producing enough electricity that we can offset our increased energy use during the time when energy is in most demand, during the afternoon, which really does provide a bit of respite for Southern California Edison,” Peggy says.

The ARRA funding also helped to create jobs in the Indian Wells Valley of California, since the carport and rooftop work was done by outside contractors. Peggy says the carport contractors alone hired 28 workers.

The Navy’s goal is to get half its energy from renewable sources by 2020, but China Lake has set an even more ambitious goal — to be a net-zero energy consumer by then. The base is home to the Coso Geothermal Field, which should help aid its quest to become energy independent. Developed in the 1980s, the field uses the area’s natural geothermic activity to produce 210 MW of energy, making it the second largest geothermal producer in the United States. That’s enough to power 260,000 homes and actually earn revenue for the Navy.

“It funds energy projects throughout the Navy, so producing energy is producing energy,” Peggy says.