Alcatraz prison, home to a history of infamous residents like Al Capone and “Machine Gun Kelly,” now boasts 1,3000 solar panels, powering lights and appliances previously powered by diesel fuel ferried across the San Francisco Bay.
The $3.6 million project comes as a part of the efforts from the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to bring clean energy to national parks and landmarks. Most importantly, it's saving money today by eliminating the transportation costs of diesel fuel to the island in addition to the associated maintenance costs and the price of the fuel itself.
A 307-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) array sits on the main Cellhouse building, producing close to 400,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. The NPS added other energy changes, including better lightbulbs and changes in operation, to reduce energy consumption.
When the sun isn't shining, a massive solar battery systems will keep power running—hidden from the view of the 1.4 million visitors to the island and prison each year.
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Since 1995, the NREL's struggle to bring solar power to the island was halted by a historic landmark group protesting that the solar panels would be too visible, which they feared would hurt tourism. The NREL envisioned solar panels on both the New Industries Building and the Cellhouse, but problems with nesting birds and visibility held the project back.
Funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, coupled with progress made by the PV industry over the years, have finally made the project possible. With today's more efficient panels, an entire PV system now rests on the roof of the Cellhouse, where it is less visible.