Big-Time Solar Planned For US Embassy In Nicaragua

The U.S. Embassy is getting a very big solar power  system, which brings to mind the fact that we’re now up to, what, nearly three years since President Obama promised solar panels would be installed on the White House, and three months since they were reported to be “in the procurement phase” and it still hasn’t happened. He can’t blame this on the Republicans, can he?

But we digress.

nicaragua embassy solar

The U.S. Embassy in Mangua (image via U.S. State Department)

The news on the embassy in Managua comes from Lockheed Martin, a company not typically thought of for its solar expertise – but Lookheed’s role isn’t as a solar provider here. Instead, Lockheed will be taking the lead in overseeing a wide range of energy improvements at the embassy, including the solar, the company said:

Under this contract, the embassy will invest $15 million to save more than $36 million in utility expenses through the installation of 1 megawatt of solar photovoltaic generation, lighting upgrades and controls, chiller plant upgrades, building automation system optimization and transformer upgrades. On-site energy generation will increase security and reduce risk of energy cost volatility for the next 25 years.

A move toward solar sounds like a good idea in Nicaragua. Things have improved from the days of long blackouts, in the middle of the last decade, but electricity is still a bit chancy and costs have been rising fast.

At 1 MW, this would be a hefty system. Consider that the average residential system in the U.S. can generate around 5 kilowatts of power when in full sun. So 1 MW is the equivalent of around 200 rooftop arrays. Put another way, a typical Ikea system – you know how big those stores are – is around a megawatt, so this is big.

As alluded to in the Lockheed statement, this plan is based on the idea that the government will pay for the work with savings. These are called “Energy Savings Performance Contracts,” in which third-party loans are used to fund the work, then savings accrued over the long life of the contract pay off the loan.

Meanwhile, about those White House solar panels….

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.