Geneva Mission Launches Solar Energy Project

Geneva – The U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva has become the first United States diplomatic post with a building-integrated solar energy system.

The seven-story building near the United Nations’ European Headquarters in Geneva has been transformed into a 118-kilowatt energy system capable of generating enough energy to power 37 average households. That figure represents the amount of energy the mission is theoretically capable of producing in one hour under optimum conditions (full sun on all parts of the building). “The significance of this facility and its amazing technology should not be underestimated,” said U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Pamela Pitzer Willeford. “It represents the first building-integrated photovoltaic system at a U.S. diplomatic post and the most ambitious solar power project ever undertaken at a U.S. government building overseas.” General Charles E. Williams, director of the State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operations, said the State Department considers the Geneva project a “flagship” and is looking for opportunities to expand solar energy use at other embassies around the world. “This project will be a win-win for everyone,” Williams said. “It is a win for the United States government because we are reducing our utility cost by approximately 20 percent, and it’s cleaner. It is a win for the public because we are building ‘green,’ and obviously the environment is benefiting.” Williams said utility companies also benefit because solar systems can help reduce the need for construction of power-generation structures to fulfill increasing power demands. At a ceremony under sunny skies in Geneva August 31, Ambassador Willeford, General Williams and Ambassador Kevin E. Moley, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, joined with officials from the Canton of Geneva to unveil the project. “Promoting the expanded use of solar and other renewable energy sources is a key element of President Bush’s national energy policy,” said Ambassador Moley. “This project provides a concrete illustration of our commitment to energy conservation and highlights Swiss-American cooperation in this area.” At the heart of the project is a Swiss and American partnership made possible by the green energy policies of Geneva’s Service Cantonale de L’Energie and the local power utility Services Industriels de Geneve (SIG). Rather than storing unused power generated by the solar system onsite in batteries, the mission sells power to Geneva’s electricity grid at the green-power rate SIG offers as an incentive for producers of renewable energy, and buys it back at the normal rate. At the August 31 ceremony, SIG presented the U.S. mission with a symbolic check for 76,000 Swiss francs (approximately $60,000) representing the amount of electricity SIG expects to purchase from the mission over the coming year. U.S. officials believe the $1.6 million project will pay for itself within 10 years. Annual energy costs will be reduced by approximately 20 percent. Additional savings will come from the cooling effect of “sunshade” photovoltaic arrays over the mission’s windows and reduced maintenance costs from protecting the facade. Solar energy is most commonly generated by flat arrays on rooftops or in solar energy farms where the panels are arranged in rows on the ground. By contrast, building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) — like the system now in place at the U.S. Mission in Geneva — incorporate solar panels into the overall architectural design. The U.S. Mission now has the largest BIPV system in the Canton of Geneva and one of the largest in Switzerland, featuring 950 square meters of solar panels along walls, over windows and on rooftops. Since July 5, when the system was placed on line, it has generated an average of 366 kilowatt-hours per day. On an average summer day, the electricity generated by the photovoltaic installation prevents 360 kg of carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas linked by some researchers to global warming. U.S. Mission Project Manager Earl Graves said a number of factors combined to make Geneva the ideal choice to become the model for the photovoltaic embassy. “There is adequate sun, there is significant political support for solar energy from the local government,” he said. Graves added, “Geneva’s prominence as an international diplomatic center allows us to showcase the American technologies used in the project to a large number of people.” For additional information on solar energy, see “Solar Cells Increasing Use of Electricity from Sunlight” and “Energy Department Details Research Needed for Solar Energy.” The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. To read the previous coverage on this topic (05/25/04, “U.S. Mission to UN Set to Go Green with Solar Project”), use the link second link below.

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