Hickam solar project will power hydrogen plant and fueling station


POSTED: Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hickam Air Force Base has completed a $1.1 million solar array project that will now power its hydrogen plant and fueling station—a first of its kind for the Air Force and Hawaii.

The 146-kilowatt system made up of 810 solar modules is enough to power about 30 standard homes. The solar photovoltaic system was gradually turned on Friday to fuel the base's hydrogen plant with the renewable energy.

It is the first time that a hydrogen plant has been powered with a solar electric system in Hawaii.

The base's $1.5 million hydrogen station was completed in November 2006.

The Air Force Advanced Power Technology Office at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia provided funding for the project, in partnership with the Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies. The 15th Airlift Wing, a unit of the Air Force, will operate and evaluate the equipment.

Sunetric, formerly Suntech Hawaii of Kailua, installed the solar panels over six weeks.

While most solar photovoltaic systems go to power a commercial building or a home, this system travels to a junction box and inverter, where DC power is converted to usable AC power to run the base's hydrogen station. Any excess power will go to the base's grid.

Based on an average cost of 21 cents per kilowatt-hour at the base, the solar panels are expected to save an average of $43,000 a year, according to Josh Powell, Sunetric's vice president of construction operations.

The solar panels are made of strong materials with a 25-year-warranty, Powell said, adding that they can be expected to produce power at 80 percent effectiveness for the first 20 to 30 years.

The system was designed specifically for the environment in Hawaii, and the panels are both wind-rated and hurricane-proof.

The solar electric system will help power the base's fleet of seven hydrogen-powered vehicles, which include an electric passenger shuttle bus. A lithium battery-powered step van, which has been developed as a demonstration project, is also expected to join the Air Force fleet.