Solar panels connect to base electric grid

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jennifer Richard
  • Nellis Public Affairs
North America's largest solar photovoltaic power system is being activated here Oct. 12, as Nellis and SunPower Corporation commission the first five megawatts of solar-produced power.

SunPower contractors have worked the past two weeks to interconnect the first third of the photovoltaic array which will ultimately provide 15 megawatts of power and save the base $1 million annually upon completion.

There is more to commissioning the array than simply connecting the power cables. Before activating the first five megawatts, SunPower personnel tested, analyzed, and fine-tuned the system to fully optimize its performance.

The switch to solar power will affect every member of the Nellis community, but the change should be transparent.

"The people here should not see any difference, but they will have the satisfaction of knowing they are using renewable energy," said Rich Hanson, senior project manager, SunPower Corporation.

The reduced energy costs will be the biggest change on base resulting from the array's commissioning.

"The true effect will be felt in October's electric bill when [Nellis] receives part of the power at our new, less expensive rate," said Michelle Price, base energy manager with the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron.

Power produced by the solar array will cut the base's energy costs, saving Nellis roughly $83,000 on its monthly electric bill when the entire system is commissioned.

The solar power system has been under construction since June 2007. The solar farm will cover 140 acres of Nellis land and will consist of approximately 70,000 solar panels when completed.

The units of solar panels are called "trackers" because they track the sun throughout the day. By tracking the movement of the sun, the panels can gather roughly 30 percent more power than fixed systems.

In November, the next five megawatts will be connected to the base electric grid.

The remainder of the 15 megawatts will be commissioned in December, completing the project which will provide the base with renewable energy for years to come.