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Solar in the least likely of places

23rd Dec 2011

While we usually associate solar panel systems with homes or large-scale projects, the technology has popped up in a couple of unusual places in the US.

Two correctional facilities in Merced County, Illinois have recently introduced solar power to their buildings with the intention of providing 70 per cent of the peak electricity consumption - as well as all of the power during off-peak times.

Twin triangular-shaped arrays were installed on 4.5 acres adjacent to the John Latorraca Correctional Facility and the Iris Garrett Juvenile Justice Correctional Complex.

Consisting of 6,272 solar panels, the system has a capacity of 1.4 megawatts.

"We are thrilled to be turning on a new era of sustainability for Merced County citizens. I think all will agree we have made a solid investment that will yield tremendous fiscal and environmental benefits to the county and its citizens for decades to come," Board of Supervisors chairman John Pedrozo said.

"The economics of the system could not be better. We can expect more than $300,000 in equivalent electricity savings every year and a net positive cash flow that over 25 years will reach, according to projections, nearly $9 million."

The entire complex also received a comprehensive lighting upgrade which - in turn with the new solar power technology - will reduce carbon emissions by almost 1,000 tons each year.

According to project planners, the county will realise more than $1.5 million in solar benefits over the next five years, as well as almost $14 million in utilities savings in the next 25 years.

This comes after Yosemite National Park installed the largest solar power system of any national park earlier this year.

The popular tourist spot in east Central California has utilised a 2,800 panel array since July, providing 12 per cent of the park's power needs through solar power.

Located within the park's maintenance and administrative complex, the system consists of a 500 kilowatt solar canopy over a parking lot, a 100 kilowatt rooftop solar panel system on a warehouse and a 72 kilowatt wall mounted array.

The $5.8 million installation is expected to save the park $50,000 a year on energy costs.

These two unique projects prove the adaptability of solar power - and while Australians homes might not use the same level of energy as a correctional facility of major tourist destination, they can still benefit from utilising the natural energy from the sun for their power needs.

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar correspondent

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