HOUSTON—Houston’s Mayor Bill White unveiled an array of solar energy equipment at the George R. Brown Convention Center to signal the start of a 100-kilowatt pilot program that will generate power from the convention center rooftop with more than 600 solar panels. Facilitated by the Houston Advanced Research Center, the test program is intended to identify and overcome barriers that might plague widespread implementation of solar energy infrastructure. Funding for the installation and initial testing of the systems amounts to almost $1 million—all of it coming from the private sector. Houston is one of a select group of American cities working with the U.S. Department of Energy to accelerate the use of solar technologies, through the Solar America Cities Program.
“We need to learn how best to harness solar energy—what works, what doesn’t—before we expand our alternative energy efforts on a wider scale,” said Mayor White, himself a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. “That’s what this pilot program will do. One thing’s for certain: Houston enjoys an abundant supply of sunshine, and we will put it to good use in developing the best way to manage another energy source.”
Workers have completed the installation of 270 photovoltaic modules that are mounted on steel beams at the rear of the convention center. There are also 360 thin film solar panels that are adhered directly onto the 16-acre roof. Project costs are being absorbed entirely by private-sector sponsors AIA Houston, BP America, CenterPoint Energy, Houston Architecture Foundation and Houston Endowment. This is the start of a total “green roof vision” for the city-owned convention center. Plans also include the possible installation of an herb garden atop the roof.
Part Research, Part Public Awareness
“We’re thrilled that the GRB roof will be home to this pilot project, which is part research program and part public awareness campaign of the possibilities of solar energy,” said Dawn Ullrich, director of the city’s Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department, which manages the George R. Brown and a host of other municipal properties. “Down the road, yes, it would be great to run this huge building by simply harnessing the power of the sun. But at this point, we’re providing a large roof to find how best to use and maintain solar technology. We’re going to learn a lot in the next year.”
The solar panels are crystalline silicon modules mounted on girders in the rear of the convention center by a rack designed to hold them at a 20-degree slope facing south. Each 15-foot section holds three modules spaced equally apart, preventing shading from one module to the next. All told, the 270 modules cover the length of a 450-yard beam. The film project on the roof consists of a flat, amorphous silicon, which generates energy at a lower capacity than the beam-mounted panels because of the slope of the panels’ racks.
Annual energy production from the project is enough to provide lights for up to 100 homes. Houston Advanced Research Center will manage the pilot program and provide analysis of day-to-day developments. Standard Renewable Energy installed the system and will monitor energy production.
Go to the George R. Brown Convention Center.