Sunday, January 25, 2009

#16 - Here Comes the Sun

"Considering the challenges we face (with global warming), I realized I had to do more than just unplug my hot tub." - Allison Hamilton, Project Director of the ODOT/PGE Solar Highway Demonstration Project

Move over Arizona, California, Florida, and Hawaii, there's a new state for sun worshippers. Forget that there's an average of 222 cloudy and 151 rainy days a year in Portland, the nation's first Solar Highway Demonstration Project had to be built somewhere and I'm proud to say it's right here in Oregon! Thanks to the bold efforts of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) under the superb direction of Allison Hamilton, and Portland General Electric (PGE), the 594 panel, 104 Kilowatt Solar Photovoltaic System went into operation December 19, 2008, after a mere 4 month construction and installation period.

The Solar Highway will yield about 112 Kilowatt Hours (Kwh) of electricity annually, equivalent to 28% of the nearly 400,000 Kwh used annually for lighting the interchange where it was placed. Solar electricity generation produces zero global warming emissions, and it's estimated the energy manufactured by this project will displace nearly 43 metric tons of the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from combustion based electricity generation.

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has instructed all state agencies to secure 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, and ODOT responded with a project built and designed using all Oregon businesses, products, and workers, including fabricated frames from Ben Quach, of QB Welding.

I was assigned to document this project from groundbreaking to operation--or over the course of late summer, fall, and early winter--and in 10 separate trips came back with a 100 image photo essay. Here are 20 of my favorite selections:

So why has Oregon become the nation's leader in solar technology? It's not because we're in the dark! On the contrary, according to the Renewable Energy Atlas of the West, the Beaver State has a 68 million megawatt-hour solar generation potential and could generate its annual energy use of 48 million megawatt-hours with partial development of these resources. Moreover, Solar Oregon reports that "Germany is installing more new solar energy systems per capita than any other country, yet its capital, Berlin, receives less sun than the cloudiest location in Oregon, near Astoria."

The goals of the ODOT Solar Highway Program are clear: to complement, not compromise, the transportation system; to supply electricity needed to operate the system; to fulfill mandates to develop clean, renewable and secure energy resources at costs no greater than purchasing electricity from the grid; to add value to existing right-of-way assets; and to build a foundation for solar highways throughout Oregon and the nation. Still a disbeliever? In this little corner of the world it's all right . . . Here Comes the Sun.
More information on the Oregon Solar Highway Demonstration Project can be found here: