This past week I got a chance to take an up-close look at the solar panels up on the roof at work. My building doesn’t actually have solar panels yet, but many of the main campus buildings and carports do. I grabbed one of the campus bikes and headed over to meet up with the green committee and take a quick tour. Since I’m writing about my place of employment, the standard disclaimer applies.
At the time the panels were installed, it was the largest corporate PV project in the country. Coming from Ohio to a sunny state like California, it’s a little surprising that Google’s 1.6MW project in 2007 was so groundbreaking. I think part of the problem has been that it takes a few years to see the return on the investment, and for the past decade or so everyone’s been so caught up in the short term. The company expected it would take 7.5 years for the system to pay for itself, but given the way utilities charge for peak load I hear we’re even ahead of that mark.
Here are a few closer shots of the panels:
They are slightly angled toward the south to catch more sun over the course of the year.
It was very interesting to hear about some of the operational aspects of having a solar power system. We don’t get a lot of rain for much of the year here so one obvious question was cleaning the panels. Apparently they weren’t planning on a specific cleaning regimen but did a trial recently and found it to be pretty inexpensive and profitable.
In this shot you can see the Shoreline Amphitheater in the distance. That panel closest to me, bottom left, was special – we had to stay clear of it because it’s hooked directly to Sergey’s Linux box and if too many people crowd around he’ll get rebooted.*
On the tour we talked a bit about other renewable options – we apparently do get some power from methane collected at the nearby landfills, though no one had the details. Solar thermal is cool but obviously not useful for rooftop installations. Google has looked into wind turbines but they really scale with size – small systems don’t really pay for themselves yet.
Solar water heating is very cost effective in California, but surprisingly rare. I wonder if we could get it going at Google and collect data to drum up more interest. It’s popular in many parts of the world and we saw solar water heaters up on roofs all over Greece and Jamaica. You can see a few here, on the Gulf of Corinth, though the photo is at a bad angle to see the broad side of the panels:
Check the Google solar site for more info and you can see the solar panels all over the place in Google Maps:
* That’s not how it really works, of course.