How do they do that?: Metro’s solar program

“How do they do that?” is a new series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How much energy does Metro’s solar panel program generate and what’s it used for?

Solar panel collectors at facilities in Chatsworth, Sun Valley, Carson and downtown L.A. reduced Metro energy costs by approximately $1 million and its carbon footprint by about 16,500 metric tons in 2010, the equivalent of removing 3,200 private cars from L.A. roadways.

At one facility alone — the Support Services Center in downtown Los Angeles (Metro’s central maintenance facility for buses) — 6,720 individual solar panels generate 1.2 megawatts, or 1,200 kilowatts of renewable, emission-free power. Along with other energy-efficient improvements, the Regional Rebuild Centers project is cutting its annual $1.1-million energy bill in half to approximately $550,000.

To collect energy, solar cells (or photovoltaic cells) are secured on the surface of solar panels that are installed on the roofs of Metro structures. These photovoltaic cells, or modules, are commonly known as a solar array. Unlike electricity — which is often produced by burning fossil fuels that produces carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas — solar energy is very clean. Nothing gets burned and solar takes advantage of a resource that’s literally everywhere.

In 2006, Metro completed a massive solar energy project encompassing 1,648 solar panels at its Metro Bus Divisions 8 and 15 in the San Fernando Valley. Two years later 1,632 solar panels were installed at its Carson bus division.

In 2012, Metro will unveil its next solar installation at the new El Monte Station, consisting of a 100-kilowatt solar array affixed to the top of fencing barriers. In addition, a 500-kilowatt array will be installed as part of the Division 13 bus operations and maintenance facility project. It will open in late 2014.

Metro’s solar energy program is the largest of its kind at a U.S. transit facility.

1 reply

  1. How much did it cost to install these solar panels and what’s the purported ROI? We need more clarity here to see how our taxes are being used.

    Saving half the cost of energy is great, but the ROI has to be better than 18 years in order to make up the costs of installing solar panels at $16.5 million in taxpayer dollars.

    In that sense, perhaps using the same $16.5 million to change all the light bulbs at every station from halogen and incandescents into CFLs and LEDs might’ve contributed more to saving electric costs with a lower ROI term.