SolarWorld solar blog

Pearl Harbor Naval Base Installation

Posted 6/2/2011 by Ben Santarris, Head of corporate communications and sustainability

Pearl Harbor SolarWorld solar panel installationIt took me about four months to get onto five Pearl Harbor rooftops to photograph new SolarWorld arrays there. I wanted our photographer, Fred Joe, to document the installations, partly because I count them among a series of iconic solar projects this year that, to me, herald a dawning solar prime time.

The combined Navy and Air Force Base, now called Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, remains critically strategic in the U.S. military’s Pacific theater, and so its public-affairs office seldom permits photos. In fact, the office denied my permit application. In the end, I reached a compromise: A patient public affairs officer would shoot pictures using her camera in consultation with Fred, then screen the shots for security concerns before releasing them to us.

After all the to and fro, I was a little anxious whether, visually, the arrays would warrant all the trouble.

Since visiting the base this spring, however, I don’t know why I stressed. The installations total 2.4 megawatts – among the biggest projects on federal property – and blanket several key buildings on one of the nation’s most historic sites. Over Memorial Day weekend, I caught a couple of movies depicting the Pearl Harbor attacks. Even with all the pyrotechnics, I know they fall well short of portraying the grievous shock and loss that befell the nation on Dec. 7, 1941.

Pearl Harbor SolarWorld solar panel installationConsidering the scale of the two-wave onslaught, it’s a marvel that the original Bachelor Enlisted Quarters (BEQ) survived unscathed, especially if you consider that the three-story complex is centrally located quite near the shipyards. Also called Paquet Hall, Building 654, (see image at left) the barracks building bears signs that seem to proclaim its defiance: “The first and still the Finest Berthing at Pearl Harbor.”

Built in 1927, the U-shaped building (pictured below) embraces a palmed courtyard featuring a swimming pool. In my mind, the park-like serenity contrasted poignantly with the historical backdrop. I could not help imagining the chilling rumble of young soldiers’ frantic footfalls on that early Sunday morning in 1941 as they flew down stairwells to try to register what was happening and what to do.Pearl Harbor SolarWorld solar panel installation

Today, some 1,064 SolarWorld modules cover much of the BEQ in an installation of modern technology that provides another counterpoint to history. Yet, the BEQ project, along with another atop an admiral’s headquarters building, are the two smallest new systems.

The Navy Exchange and Navy Commissary – two adjoining but separate buildings that jointly serve as the equivalent of an extra-big-box shopping center – bear systems totaling some 7,100 solar panels. The flat-mounted arrays create light-addled panoramas of converging parallel lines. No single conventional still photograph from the rooftop could capture the impression of the solar latticework.

Pearl Harbor SolarWorld solar panel installationThe rooftops and their parapets are awash in white paint, seeming to concentrate the brilliance. During my visit, the skies were partly cloudy, the sun not yet particularly high in the sky and the temperature only warm, not hot. Yet, the light’s intensity was blinding, oppressive. More than at any other solar project I have seen, I had a visceral sense of confronting a technology that was directly harvesting a mother lode of energy. It was not unlike the sense I might have, I think, if I were doing the backstroke in a deep river forcing its way into the turbines of a hydroelectric dam.

The rush of history, the expanse of solar, the wash of sunlight combined to leave me with an impression laden with pride and gratitude – for the U.S. soldiers, yes, but also for the solar pioneers and far-seeing military planners who helped usher us to this project’s point at the cusp of a new U.S. energy era.

Fred, who knows from light, also was struck by the overbearing radiance – as well as the sense of time’s compression.

“When you’re there on the ground, you imagine these quarters and buildings as they were, and it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to step back in time,” Fred says. “Then, when you go straight up a ladder 25 feet onto the roof, it’s like stepping into the future.”

The photos surely do not do justice to these impressions. But I hope you appreciate them. Several of us took pains to get them.

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