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With the significant, steady drop in the cost of solar energy systems, the State

Department has moved to take advantage of this enivronment-friendly investment.

Todd Evans is an energy manager in the Office of

Design and Engineering of the Bureau of Overseas

Buildings Operations. He is a licensed architect and

a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

(LEED©)–accredited professional and certified

energy manager with expertise in renewable energy systems.


olar power systems, once a rarity at

diplomatic facilities overseas, have

become more commonplace in the

past decade. Once in use at only a

handful of posts, solar power sys-

tems are now installed at 20 posts

worldwide, with another 26 systems

on the way.

Construction is nearing comple-

tion on systems in Nouakchott, Valletta, London, Port-au-Prince

and Belmopan. Additional systems are funded, under design

or have started construction in Curaçao, Harare, N’Djamena,

Bridgetown, Nuevo Laredo, Phnom Penh, Mexico City, Colombo,

Beirut, Matamoros, Niamey and Hyderabad.

The increase has much to do with the long-term savings we

achieve through these investments. Over the years, we have

identified four important components to achieving success.

To ensure a global return on investment in this technology,

the first key is to install the equipment in areas known for their

irradiance—essentially, sun and clear skies (see Figure 1). The

second consideration is the local cost for municipally supplied

electricity coupled with the reliability of the local grid. The third

key is having the physical space available on the ground, over

parking areas or on a roof that is not shaded by surrounding

vegetation or structures.

The final and most important factor in the equation for suc-

cess is the interest and commitment of the local community,

along with the ability to performmaintenance on the installation

locally. While these arrays are not complicated by moving parts,

they do require regular monitoring, cleaning and, sometimes,

part replacement.

Sunny Skies

The first key is dictated by geography. Figure 1 shows how

much sun energy reaches the earth. If your post is in a bright

and clear location, then let’s go ahead and talk about keys two,

three and four. If you’re also paying a lot for electricity and you

have a staff parking lot that could use a cover or an empty lot that

isn’t planned for, then your post is probably a good candidate

for a solar power system. But if you live in a dark location, your

power is cheap and reliable, and you don’t have a square meter

that isn’t covered or planned for, then you’re probably better off

continuing to get your juice from the grid. (Sorry, Reykjavík.)

Cost of Power

The second key requires a careful look at your utility bill.

Installation and system costs have come down steadily and

considerably, making the payback on investment much more

likely even in locations with lower electricity rates. At the start of



Harnessing the Sun to Power U.S. Embassies