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Sunlight Helps Laboratory Get Ready for Y2K

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Golden, Colo., Dec. 27, 1999 - One of the oldest forms of energy on the planet—sunlight—will help guarantee a smooth transition to the new millennium at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

A solar powered generator and battery storage system will be installed by the end of December to provide emergency electricity to the Site Entrance Building (SEB), which houses the laboratory's security staff and critical security functions. The generator's 600-watt photovoltaic (PV) array is made of crystalline silicon solar cells and is attached to a storage system of eight rechargeable batteries.

The batteries are connected to an inverter that allows for an almost instant switch to solar power if the supply of electricity from the local utility grid is interrupted.

The solar generator will switch on automatically at any time on Dec. 31 or in the days following the New Year if a power failure disrupts electricity supplies. If a power failure should be protracted, a secondary propane backup generator is part of the emergency system.

The solar energy backup power supply will enable NREL's security staff to maintain critical functions, even if the utility grid fails. Critical functions include security access to research facilities and alarm monitoring systems throughout the laboratory, and basic computer functions, lighting and heat in the security building.

DOE does not anticipate disruptions in electricity supplies due to the Y2K computer bug but advises companies to take prudent precautions. Providing a backup power supply to NREL's security building is one such precaution.

The PV generator will become part of the building's permanent supplemental power supply and can provide electricity that will help offset demand from the utility grid.

Senior Mechanical Engineer Otto Van Geet points out that the solar generator is an ideal application of PV technology. "Solar generators are mobile and reliable and can provide almost instant emergency power to homes and businesses during almost any manmade or natural disasters, such as hurricanes or localized power failures."

The solar generator being installed at NREL is available commercially. DOE last year donated eight trailer-mounted solar generators to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to demonstrate the technology's usefulness in disaster relief operations. NREL also works closely with the General Services Administration and other federal, state and local agencies on disaster preparedness.

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