Steps are being taken on Fort Benning to make it greener, and save money. One way is through the use of solar photovoltaic energy.
Photovoltaic technology uses solar energy to produce electricity. Solar energy is renewable and, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “more energy from the sun falls on the earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year.”
Building 4 will have this technology and it currently powers all crosswalk signs on the installation.
For a standalone device such as a crosswalk sign, individual solar cells are used to charge batteries, which in turn run the lights.
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Vernon Duck, Directorate of Public Works installation energy manager, said the use of the solar cells in the crosswalk signs is less costly than using electrical wiring.
The panels being used in the Building 4 renovations consist of many individual solar cells, which increase the amount of electricity produced.
”The fixed single axis flat panels have to be mounted to receive the sunlight from a southern exposure,” Duck said. In Georgia, solar photovoltaic is not widely used in most cases because the cost outweighs the benefits, as opposed to Arizona, where the conditions are more suitable.
According to the NREL, Georgia averages four to five solar hours daily compared to Arizona, which averages more than eight. Photovoltaic technology works best in areas that have a dry climate, low humidity and not a lot of cloud coverage, Duck said. This difference means Arizona can have an electricity output that is over twice as much as in Georgia.
Duck said in order to determine whether a technology should be used, ideally, the payback should be less than 10 years or in the case of renewable energy, at least before the product’s life cycle end. Using solar panels by themselves means a payoff of at least 40 years; however, when bundled together with other energy efficient technology, there is a better payoff, he said.
Duck said they try to put panels wherever they can by bundling them. In some instances, the technology can still be used in spots where the cost is lower than using an alternative method such as with the crosswalk signs.
Even with current limitations, photovoltaic use on Fort Benning is being monitored and evaluated almost daily. In the future, with better technology, Duck said, the technology will be more cost-effective and more efficient to use.