THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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,
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
BY TODD EVANS
Harnessing the Sun to Power U.S. Embassies
ON ENVIRONMENTAL DIPLOMACY