In the 1970′s, the U.S Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs hosted a comprehensive research project on home solar retrofits. The idea was to improve energy efficiency in Air Force housing, which at the time numbered over 150,000 units. The lessons learned from the model solar home were soon buried when popular tastes turned to energy-hogging McMansions. But now, 30 years later, solar power has come full circle. The Academy is set to build a 3MW solar installation that will dwarf the earlier pilot project, providing solar energy not just for one home but for up to 7% of the entire educational complex.
That Was Then: The U.S. Air Force Academy Solar Test House
When the Air Force Academy was created in 1954, the benefit to faculty and students of an in-house research mission soon became apparent. The Academy established the Frank J. Seiler Laboratory in 1962. When the prolific lab closed in 1995 it was replaced by eight research centers. Among its numerous projects was the U.S. Air Force Academy Solar Test House. A series of reports starting in 1976 detail how the project began as a response to the energy crisis of the time, partly to address rising costs, and partly to achieve a guaranteed energy supply for the armed forces. The project involved solar powered HVAC and water heating retrofits in a typical military family housing unit. By 1980, the researchers had made detailed studies of an array of solar technologies relating to conservation, insulation, solar collectors, thermal storage in the form of a 2,500 gallon underground tank, and control systems. Researchers made a large number of recommendations regarding the conversion to solar technology that never made it to those other 150,000 Air Force housing units, let alone into the civilian market – until now, that is.
This is Now: 3 MW of Solar Power at U.S. Air Force Academy
Flash forward almost 30 years, and the picture is totally different. The Air Force places among the U.S. EPA’s top twenty green energy users. Among its rapidly growing list of sustainable energy installations is the mammoth 15 MW solar farm at Nellis Air Force Base, and it is even experimenting with solar powered drones. According to a report in Defense Industry Daily, the Air Force has contracted with Colorado Springs Utilities to build an $18.3 million solar farm with a capacity of up to 3MW. Funding for the project will come from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It’s part of $1.4 billion that the Air Force is set to receive for base improvements focused mainly on sustainable energy as part of the administration’s efforts to build the market for green jobs. After 30 years of wandering, it looks like the “lost” solar house has finally found a home.
Image: cliff1066 on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.