SFO harnesses solar power to supply Terminal 3 lights

A solar power system being installed on the roof of San Francisco International Airport's Terminal 3, together with additional planned energy efficiency projects at the airport, is expected to reduce energy use by 15 percent within a few years, city...


A solar power system being installed on the roof of San Francisco International Airport's Terminal 3, together with additional planned energy efficiency projects at the airport, is expected to reduce energy use by 15 percent within a few years, city officials said Thursday.

The savings is significant, considering that the airport's annual energy costs are $35 million to $36 million, counting both electricity and gas, airport spokesman Mike McCarron said.

More than 2,800 solar modules are on the terminal's roof, and Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city officials stood among them Thursday to say the city's plan is to have many more such announcements of renewable projects in coming years.

"It's just a drop in the bucket compared to what we are capable of doing," Newsom said. "However, it's a big deal compared to anyone else. We are the pace car for municipal solar projects in this state and this country."

The solar modules, manufactured by Suntech, a Chinese maker of photovoltaic cells and modules, are expected to generate a yearly savings of 628,000 kilowatt hours, enough to provide energy for 300 homes.

It is also expected that the solar energy will be sufficient to power all the daytime lighting at Terminal 3.

The project is a joint effort between San Francisco International Airport and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Susan Leal, the commission's general manager, said the city is on track to install solar systems to generate 2 megawatts of power for municipal buildings by year's end.

She said that provides an environmental savings that is the equivalent of planting 700,000 trees.

The city is eligible for a $1.2 million state rebate on the $5.5 million airport project, said Newsom.

In June, San Francisco and engineering firm CH2M Hill announced they are jointly managing a Web site that enables users to visualize the environmental benefits and savings that could be realized by installing solar panels on their property.

Using Google Maps, the site lets users view the results of an analysis of the solar potential of their home or commercial building.

The site provides the estimated amount of paneling that could be installed, the potential electricity cost reduction that would result and other information.

Apartment dwellers, Newsom suggested, could go to their landlords and present them with the information available at www.sf.solarmap.org, and encourage them to consider solar power.

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