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US Mission in Geneva Going Solar - 2004-07-05


The U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva is set to become the first American foreign diplomatic building to use solar power as part of its electric energy source. Officials at the mission say they expect the solar electric system to be up and running before the end of the year.

Mission officials say the 'go-green' project will provide America's diplomatic mission in Geneva with a clean, renewable and ultimately free source of energy. Over the coming months, the building's fa├žade and roof will be fitted with photo-voltaic panels that will produce sustainable 'green' (environmentally friendly) electric power.

Jeffrey Wooten is executive vice-president of Solar Design Associates, which developed the design for the project. The U.S.-based solar energy firm installed the solar systems at the White House. Mr. Wooten said he hopes the project in Geneva will be followed by similar initiatives at other diplomatic buildings abroad. "This is the first time in any U.S. mission, embassy or U.N. building. If this is successful, I anticipate that, downstream (in the future), given the nature of today's world, that this is going to be a long-term benefit in the fact that you will have renewable energies on site," he said.

A unique partnership between the U.S. government and local Swiss utility companies is behind the project, which will cost a maximum of $1.5 million. Mr. Wooten says the project will meet up to 20 percent of the mission's energy needs, and will pay for itself in less than 10 years. He says it should have a useful life of between 50 and 75 years.

He says the system will provide enough energy on a yearly basis to power 37 average households. On sunless days, the local Swiss utility companies will provide backup power. He notes that solar energy is also of benefit to power companies. They often have difficulty keeping up with demand, as occurred last August in New York City, when a freak accident caused a blackout over the whole northeast.

"Had we had more photo voltaic systems in place, those high demands, where you have higher electricity usage, high demands on the utility grid, are being offset at the most important time of the day, which is usually the hottest part of the day. These are the times when the PV (photo voltaic) system is working at its best. So, this is one of the things that helps the utility company in helping to reduce demands on it," he said.

Another plus, say the officials, is that the solar panels cut down on heat gain in the building. This, they say, will reduce air conditioning requirements.

U.S. officials note photo voltaic technologies are particularly well suited in parts of the world where sun is plentiful and power reliability is low, which could fit the bill for the future American Embassy in Iraq.