By Mr. Daniel J Calderon (USACE)June 20, 2012
LAS VEGAS -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District's Nellis Resident Office recently completed a solar power project for the Bureau of Land Management at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
"The new photovoltaic system is capable of producing an average of 40 KWAC of electricity," said Viet Q. Tran, project engineer at the Nellis office. "The calculated full load requirement to support the fire station is 38.6 KW; therefore, this solar system is designed to fully support the full load requirement."
The system absorbs energy from the sun and provides power directly to the load. It also charges backup batteries on site. The batteries power the load in the evening. There are enough batteries to power the facility, if everything were to be turned on, for up to two days. The District also installed solar cells to power the nearby camp host facility. Tran said the project represents one of the largest off-grid solar projects in the country.
"There are 270 solar panels and 240 batteries for the fire station," he said. "For the camp ground, the solar system consists of 36 panels capable of producing 8.6 KWDC and 48 batteries for power storage."
At both sites, the District installed a backup diesel-powered generator. Before the District installed the solar panels, the BLM used a diesel generator to provide power for the fire station since the facility is not connected to local utilities. In the buildings on the facility, there are computers, lights, energy-efficient refrigerators and energy-efficient ice machines and washers and dryers among the many items requiring electrical energy. Geoff Wallin, a fire operations specialist for the BLM, said the facility used nearly $60,000 worth of fuel per year to power the facility.
"The completed project helps us secure our infrastructure out here," Wallin said. "We're here to protect the Mojave ecosystem and habitat for endangered species. The Corps bringing in their experience is really what made the project."
Nearly 60 firefighters live and work in the station during the busy season. The station grounds also hosts a building for BLM rangers who patrol the National Conservation Area. The Area hosts between four and five million visitors annually. Wallin said there are about 10 to 20 fires in Red Rock Canyon and about 150 to 170 in Southern Nevada each year that he and his colleagues have to fight. Knowing they have reliable power for their living and working needs allows them to do their job with one less worry.
"Less maintenance is required on the solar system and it's more reliable," he said. "With the diesel generator, we would lose power to the facility when we got to 110 or 115 degrees out here because the generator would overheat."
The district installed timers in the buildings that would help regulate the amount of energy being used. If the system doesn't sense any movement in the area for a certain amount of time, the lights in the room are shut off. They turn on as soon as the sensors detect motion.
"Since the system's been installed, I haven't noticed any interruption in power," said Ryan Cochrane, a senior firefighter. "The timers have been working perfectly. It only takes stepping into the room a couple of steps, if the lights are off, for them to turn on."
Cochrane said the completed project gives him an additional sense of satisfaction in his daily work.
"It's nice to know you've got clean energy out here instead of having to burn diesel fuel 24-7," he said. "The gas won't last forever and we've all got to do our part for the environment."
Tran said he is satisfied with the work on a project critical to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
"I'm really proud to have been a part of this important project," Tran said. "For some people, sustainable energy is just a good idea. We're helping turn those ideas into a great reality. Helping the Bureau of Land Management ensure its firefighters have the energy necessary to run their facility and doing it in an ecologically responsible manner is just another way our District continues Building Strong and Taking Care of People."