NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: You are invited to cover the
presentation of a grant check from the City of Palo Alto to NASA in front
of a solar-electric system on the roof of Bldg. N245 at NASA Ames Research
Center, Moffett Field, CA, on Wednesday, July 11 at 11:00 a.m. PDT. To
reach Ames, take the Moffett Field exit from Highway 101, drive east to the
main gate at Moffett Field, and report to the visitor badging office for
maps and directions to the main lobby of Bldg. N245. Follow signs to the
roof. U.S. media representatives must have valid picture ID in order to
enter Ames.

In an unusual role reversal, a city will give the federal government (NASA)
a grant for solar energy work.

While standing on the space sciences building roof (N245) in front of
electricity-making solar arrays, a City of Palo Alto Utilities
representative tomorrow will hand a $20,000 grant check for the solar
system to Steve Frankel, the energy “czar” at NASA’s Ames Research Center
in California’s Silicon Valley.

“We took advantage of a renewable energy program sponsored by the City of
Palo Alto, CA,” said Frankel. “Palo Alto will refund $4.00 per watt towards
our system because solar is a renewable energy technology,” Frankel said.
He oversees Ames’ effort that resulted in a 12-percent reduction of
electricity use in June as compared to a year ago. The savings resulted
from installation of motion detector light switches and other conservation
efforts, including an e-mail campaign encouraging Ames employees to save.

“The City of Palo Alto Utilities supports the development of renewable
energy technologies both within Palo Alto and in neighboring communities,”
said John Ulrich, Director of Utilities for the city. “Our grant program is
part of a remote renewable demonstration project which shows the viability
of photovoltaic systems in commercial and technical uses, school and

“The purpose of the solar array system is to shave peak energy demand,”
said Ron Thompson, of the Ames Plant Engineering Branch. “Peak energy
demand can be during a hot day, say, at the height of business hours when
everybody is using computers, air conditioning and lab appliances.”

When sunlight is bright, solar panels on the roof of Bldg. N245 make about
5.5 kilowatts of electricity per hour. That is enough to light more than
150 32-watt fluorescent bulbs. The solar-electric demonstration project has
been operating since May.

Though the electric current generated is small compared to the total
electricity that Ames uses, center engineers are closely looking at what it
takes to make a solar-electric system successful. They hope for much bigger
Ames systems in the future.

“We also are considering using lighter solar cell panels to replace the old
solar water heating systems on the cafeteria and on buildings 583A and
584B, old barracks that are now used to house visitors,” Thompson said. The
old racking systems that support the solar water heating structures on the
three buildings are sound, and can be used to mount new solar-electric
panels, thereby saving funds, he said.

“On Bldg. N245, we have a portable metering system that is much akin to a
fancy electrical meter. It’s like a photographic light meter that we use to
monitor the operation of the array. But the system takes many more kinds of
readings. It’s run by a laptop computer meter in the mechanical room,”
Thompson said.

The plant could produce about 7,300 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.
“This system would be more than capable of running a typical residential
house complete with all the major appliances and with four or five
occupants,” he said. Each of the18 solar panels on Bldg. N245 costs $2,200
and has three modules that contain photovoltaic cells. A sheet of glass
covers each module. Each panel can make 360 watt-hours of direct current
(DC) electricity before inverters convert it to alternating current (AC).
Solar (photovoltaic) cells generate electricity when light hits the
junction between certain pairs of dissimilar substances.

The system includes three inverters that make AC, the standard form of
electric current that generating plants transmit to users. “Each inverter
was about $3,000, but due to the California Energy Commission buy-down
program, we received discounts on the price,” Thompson said. Including
labor, the system’s total cost was about $60,000. The frame on which the
panels are mounted is heavy-duty, much stronger than a typical homeowner
would require, according to Thompson. “The components cost about $44,000,”
said Thompson. “We did not opt to get a battery system, but, rather, stuck
with a direct grid-tie.” Workers finished installing the system in May.

NASA is paying the balance of the cost to construct and operate the pilot
plant. NASA and the Department of Energy designed the system. More
information about solar-electric projects is available on the Internet at:

Ames engineers are studying wind power, as well. A small windmill (wind
turbine) is powering a bilge pump that removes water from a storm water
basin. The windmill replaced a one-horsepower electric pump. The windmill’s
total operations and maintenance cost savings is about $1,970 per year. In
addition, Thompson is investigating other systems to generate electricity,
including solar-panel roof tiles. Ames engineers also are considering
shutdown of some facilities on weekends in order to receive additional
power company