Personnel attached to Norfolk Naval Station and residents living near the base are accustomed to seeing cutting-edge technology in the form of ships and aircraft, and other high-tech platforms, on this, the world’s largest naval base, nearly every day. In keeping with the Navy’s pioneering spirit, in December 2012, the base unveiled a new 10-acre solar array system to help pay its utility bill.
The solar farm contains 8,624 solar panels installed in a rack system, each bolted onto steel stilts installed in a soggy field called Monkey Bottom just outside the naval station’s gate and visible from the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
Eighteen-thousand linear feet of above-ground conduit is installed in the array field with 15,000 linear feet of PVC conduit installed below ground; 230,000 linear feet of wire is pulled in the array field to support the operation of the solar panels. The system produces up to 2.1 megawatts of electricity, according to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic, who is responsible for the project.
According to Tom Kreidel, spokesman for NAVFAC Mid-Atlantic, the solar array is the largest solar project at any Navy base on the East Coast.
The project is important because Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus set an energy security, increase its energy independence and help lead the nation toward a clean energy economy. The Department of the Navy established five ambitious energy goals (http://www.navy.mil/features/Navy_EnergySecurity.pdf) intended to move the Navy and Marine Corps away from a reliance on petroleum and dramatically increase the use of alternative energy.
One of the goals is to increase alternative energy ashore. By 2020, the department will produce at least 50 percent of shore-based energy requirements from alternative sources and 50 percent of DON installations will be net-zero — meaning they will produce enough energy to be energy-independent.
The solar project will help the Norfolk Naval Station meet the secretary’s goals for greater energy efficiency. The project was awarded in June 2009, and the solar array is expected to be fully
operational by the end of 2012.
Solar panels use the sun's rays to produce electricity. Sunlight, in the form of photons, shines down on the panels. The panels convert the photons into electrons as direct current. Then the photons flow to a DC/AC power converter, also known as an inverter, where they are converted into alternating current power.
"As far as how it works with our energy program, the power from the panels goes back into the grid that feeds the base. So it doesn't go to any one particular place on base. The energy we produce with the solar panels is energy that we don't have to buy from the local electric company,” said Michelle Perry, NAVFAC’s project manager for the solar panel system.
The cost of the project was $21 million.
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Heather Rutherford is the CHIPS assistant editor. She can be reached at