USAFA Solar Array

Discussion in 'Academy/Military News' started by Stealth_81, Sep 11, 2012.

  1. Stealth_81

    Stealth_81 Super Moderator Moderator Founding Member

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    Array Saves $802,000 In First Year

    9/10/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- After a year of operation, the data is in. The Academy has received roughly seven and half percent more power than anticipated from the 6-megawatt solar array project that began production last summer. Read more

    Stealth_81
     
  2. Packer

    Packer Member

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    18,300,000/802,000 = 23 year return on investment if no maintenance or other costs are incurred. Glad they are spending my tax dollars so wisely.
     
  3. hornetguy

    hornetguy USAFA Cadet

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    I have visited the USAFA solar array as well as several DoD solar projects. The only main difference between the USAFA one and the others is that USAFA built it with ARRA funds and the others were privately built.

    23 years is about the typical standard (20 years) for gov't and private finance on energy projects. So yes, they spent your tax dollars wisely. In fact, the bidding process was really well done. They had their budget and chose the project that could give the biggest bang for the buck on that budget - and it did.

    On most of these projects, the O&M ends up less than anticipated and is cheap - on the order of $10/kW/year (<$60K a year for 6 MW). The contract requires the contractor to maintain a minimum level of efficiency so they will have to pay USAFA if they don't meet that.

    I spend the majority of my research time working on these energy projects at RAND for the Army. The USAFA one is helping meet the Net-Zero goals specified for them and is financially beneficial, even in one of the country's cheapest energy markets. The non-ARRA projects such as Nellis, Davis-Monthan, Fort Carson, a several private housing projects in the southwest have been saving a ton (the first Nellis phase sells them electricity at 2.2c/kWH - they save close to a million a year and the private developer has done well). The Army developed a commission called EITF to help them accelerate these projects. The USAF has been the leader in developing these contracts through MAJCOM specific Tiger Teams.

    The most common contract allows the private developer to build the array on military land at a discounted property rate. The military gets the benefit through purchasing the power at a discounted rate. The requirement is to receive power at equal or less (usually less) than their current electrical tariff. The military has been benefiting from these projects tremendously.

    In the case of Nellis, Fort Carson, Miramar, and USAFA, I have directly interviewed their energy staff and the people who developed the contracts. They are pretty impressive in knowledge and results.

    In conclusion, some like Packer choose to take the naive approach and denounce "government spending!" as so terrible without understanding the actual process and finances going on in these projects as well as how both public and private utilities perform their financial calculations on energy projects. As someone who has been involved for two years in evaluating the DoD installation renewable programs, I can say they are one of the few well-managed programs doing some real good for the DoD and the country as a whole.
     
  4. Packer

    Packer Member

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    Impressive. You are a mind reader and a diplomat.

    Would you invest your personal money in a project that was going to take you at least 23 years to break even? If you choose, for the purposes of this calculation you may ignore the fact that you are borrowing the money to invest.
     
  5. hornetguy

    hornetguy USAFA Cadet

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    I don't know, a lot of people are willing to take a 30 year loan to own a home and end up paying the price tag twice in interest. Are they all fools?

    You are comparing apples and oranges. This is not a private person buying a solar array. This is a utility situation. The standard in regulated and many unregulated utilities for building new assets is to base their rates to 20 (and sometimes more) payback time periods. On many infrastructures projects in general, payback periods of 20+ years are expected and considered reasonable. Almost the exact same panels (same manufacturer) were used in many privately financed projects elsewhere for utilities (public and private) because they made financial sense.

    What happened, the payback period, the finances, etc. are nothing unusual for electric utilities in this country. I KNOW the finances of this project and several others. I am EDUCATED on this specific topic. Say what you want, but from someone who actually talked to these people and studied it as a case study - it was and is a good project that will benefit USAFA and the DoD.
     
  6. pilot2b

    pilot2b Candidate Appointee

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    I guess the biggest question in my mind is how common or necessary is regular maintenance/repair for a solar array. That obviously can add to the original cost, particularly if parts need to be replaced, etc.
     
  7. Packer

    Packer Member

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    Some are some are not. Some get lucky some don't. You are over simplifying the above "investment" but I am sure you are aware of that. Honestly, very few homebuyers even understand or think about ROI.

    Not exactly apples and oranges but you are right that it is not the same as a utility has a captive customer base. However this and many other such projects are not being driven by economics but rather by legislation that is trying to pick the technological winners.

    I am glad to know you are EDUCATED and not NAIVE.
     
  8. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    ::COUGH COUGH::: Enron. ::COUGH COUGH::
     
  9. hornetguy

    hornetguy USAFA Cadet

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    Again, the historic costs so far are about $10/kW/year. That is VERY cheap compared to most any other generating technology.* Keep in mind that the only moving parts on a solar array are single or dual axis trackers (most solar arrays are not and have NO moving parts). I believe the cleaning schedule for the Nellis array was 4 times a year or something like that. The dust suppression layer they sprayed on top of the soil below the array has worked better than anticipated and they clean less than half the time of their original expectation. At Nellis, they pretty much have one full-time person monitoring the array and that's the extent of personnel needed besides the needed cleaning.

    The solar panels typically last longer than their advertised timeline so we can expect them to also continue provided reliably electricity for probably another 20 years after their expected life in desert climates.


    *Solar is a fixed price per kW capacity. Coal runs about $350K a year for 6 MW capacity (~$8/MWh), gas and wind turbines are similar, Nuclear is about $600K a year for 6 MW, Biomass and geothermal are near $1M/yr. Once you spend the money to buy the array, it is cheap to keep around. All the costs are up front in the capital whereas most other technologies are in the fuel and maintenance.
     
  10. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    So looks like AFA should take a $1million cut budget time eh? (I realize that is a small amount)
     
  11. hornetguy

    hornetguy USAFA Cadet

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    Sunpower trades on Nasdaq. CSU is a public utility.

    USAFA uses about 105,000 MWh and they pay roughly $5/MWh.

    Enron (or Solyndra) is not applicable. These are able to get low bank financing since the assets are hard and there to back up the financing. Sunpower does a lot of work here and in Europe and are recognized for having some of the best solar products out there. Again, these are used commonly on PRIVATE arrays because they make sense, especially in the Southwest.


    I'm really baffled at the response here. Is it just because it is renewable energy and you think that is some Ponzi scheme? Is it because the government is buying it or power from it? I don't understand. These projects are financially profitable for most of the installations using them under utility financing models that have been used for decades.

    Legislation has not been choosing technology winners. They choose renewable portfolio standards and the market can choose which technologies best meet the standard at lowest cost. It is a very smart way to do it. Enough progress has been made that solar costs will be able to compete without any help within the decade due to capacity, scale production, and their current feasibility in the southwest. It really is an exciting time as the solar market is starting to leap as it goes from innovation/testing to full adoption in the way wind has.
     
  12. hornetguy

    hornetguy USAFA Cadet

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    They did. They apply for supplemental funding for their energy bill. They are now having to ask for $800K less to pay their electricity bill.
     
  13. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    In certain areas like technology, ANY type of Net-0 Payback is a great deal. Even if it's a 20 year payback. Why? Simple.Throughout it's always been the government; military and NASA mainly, who's spending of money has actually progressed the technology for the rest of the country/world. Many times, it's the government spending that was needed because private funding wasn't willing or able to spend such investments into trial/error/research spending.

    Some can think of Military/government spending as "Stimulus Money". Some understand the actual economics of it. The point is; the money spent on the array at the academy does a lot more for the country than just save tax dollars after 20 years of use. Same with the research that the academy and many universities provide. Same when the military spend money on unique requirements that many think are too expensive. If the military, nasa, and other government agencies didn't do that in times of necessity; our national/world technology wouldn't be as advanced as it is now. So you can look at just the dollars being spent. I look at what it does for the country from a technological position.
     
  14. hornetguy

    hornetguy USAFA Cadet

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    Spot on.

    As an anecdote I thought was cool. When we interviewed the team last year that handled the Nellis acquisition in 2007, they were told by SunPower that the huge scale of the project had measurable effects on the entire solar market. They had to rev factories across the nation to produce the necessary number of panels that led to enough investment to quantifiable lower the cost of solar technology. :thumb:
     
  15. Packer

    Packer Member

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    You are 100% correct but in this case, can you explain what technology is being advanced?
    Solar power is continueing to improve but is relatively mature. I believe this is basically a demonstration project and it is driven by legislation not economics. 18.3 million is a relatively small sum but the AF is/should be in the defense business not the power generation business.
     
  16. hornetguy

    hornetguy USAFA Cadet

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    In the solar market, production of crystalline wafer solar panels is becoming more and more efficient and the costs are decreasing. Whereas many thought thin-film solar would be cheaper than wafer - production processes have advanced to a point where wafer works better in many applications. A SPECIFIC technology was not advanced - the specification was for a solar resource as technologies like large-scale wind are not allowed on most USAF installations. In recent publications that track technology maturity from first adopters, innovation adopters, 2nd wave adopters, late adopters, and full scale adoption, solar is pegged in the innovation adopters. If you look at solar utility adoption, the scale becomes exponential around 2010 as we get ready to enter 2nd wave adoption.

    The project was not a demonstration. It was meant to provide benefits. USAFA nor the USAF operate the array in any manner - they are not a power generator. The electricity from the array feeds to USAFA and rolls back their electricity meter while CSU operates the array. However energy surety is certainly a USAF and DoD need that the solar array will be a part of solving among a portfolio of energy generation and distribution resources to come. It is one step in a series of future construction meant to make USAFA self-sufficient in the event of commercial outages to keep the mission from being impacted from outside. Not only is it saving them money (economics) but it is a component that will allow them to be resilient to man-made (attacks or fragile infrastructure) or nature disasters taking down the commercial grid.

    If you believe the DoD is not in the power generation business, I advise looking up facilities such as Eielson AFB, Clear AFB, Fort Greely, Fort Wainwright, China Lake NAS and Fort Belvoir (ANPP in general) which have (ANPP) or currently (all else) operate power plants; most of them for decades. They have been beneficial for all the facilities and provided security not available from the grid. I have been to all the Alaska facilities on that list and was quite impressed with them, despite their age.
     
  17. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    Hornet already answered; quite accurately your question. I just want to add one thing. You claim that solar power is "Relatively Mature". It is no where near mature. Yes, all the way back to the time of the cave men, people realized that the sun could produce energy. But today's electricity generating solar panels are only in the 11-15% efficiency. High end research has some panels producing in the 22-25%. That's the highest you'll find. Efficiency with solar has the advantage of longevity with no moving parts and such; but the amount of energy produced is still quite low. There's a lot of money that needs to be spent and invested
     
  18. hornetguy

    hornetguy USAFA Cadet

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    Need to add a bit to CC's answer on efficiency. The latest Sunpower panel (E20) produces at 20% (first commercial panel over 20%) with their E18/E19 panels being used at USAFA/Nellis producing at 18-19%. HOWEVER, higher ambient temperatures from testing (25C) reduce the efficiency quite a bit.

    I'm assuming your efficiency numbers are based on the rated efficiency, so I still wanted to point out that we've broken the 20% mark on commercial systems this year.

    But, some of the research into improving efficiency is pretty cool from a chemist's POV!

    These efficiency-points can reach cost parity in the SW with such large solar insolation, but they are much harder to make profitable in other areas.

    Researchers used to think solar panel cost curves were leveling out.....they were very wrong thanks to creative producers. :)
     
  19. Packer

    Packer Member

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    I have nothing against solar. I think it is pretty cool actually. I wrote a h.s. and a college research project on the future of solar voltaics way back in the 80's.
    I do question if this is the best use of government capital. We obviously disagree on that point. However, the last few posts have been much more persuasive than
    Thanks for sharing.
     
  20. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    Yes, you are totally correct hornet. I did a lot of work at sandia labs at Kirtland AFB. I still have a few friends there. The 22-25% is under lab conditions. Actual usage is like you mentioned; breaking the 20% barrier.

    But the more money spent on solar, the more the technology will advance. Obviously, solar would be the best if we could get 80-90% efficiency. Wind simply doesn't do it because of the mechanical moving parts and the additional cost related to maintenance, service, and construction. You can buy a 5kw wind generator for around $13,000. At $100 a month average electricity bill, and assuming a consumer didn't need more than 5000 watts for their home, that's roughly a 10 year payoff. Unfortunately, once you add in the battery storage for the electricity and the recurring maintenance on the turbines, you are back at the 15+ year payoff. But as long as there are mechanical/moving parts, there will always be the additional cost of wear/tear. The most efficient energy is Nuclear. Unfortunately ignorance and politics have prevented more use of that. So solar is the one that we can best advance with. But just like with consumers buying tv's in the mid 20th century lead to the business sector improving and researching better technologies to where we are today; so is it with solar energy. It requires people with money to buy the technology, so more money becomes available to improve the technology.
     

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