Ted Simons: Tonight’s “Focus on Sustainability” looks at an innovative solar installation at the Phoenix Dream Center, a local non-profit that offers services to help the most needy in our state. Photographer Juan Magana visited the facility at 35th Avenue and Grand.
Brian Steele: This entire project that's behind me, a $2.1 million project, was raised privately and didn't cost our nonprofit anything. There was a little bit of a learning curve with the city planning with the new technology. We walked it through with them, and got the permits pulled last November. The project, the installation that you're seeing itself, only took two months to really fully install the project. It was a very quick project. It not only generates electricity for us, nearly 60% of what we need here at the Dream Center. It also generates all of the hot water that we need and more than what we need.
So what makes this technology truly unique, the sunlight comes into the system, hits a reverse parabola-shaped mirror, that sunlight is concentrated back up, if you can imagine taking a magnifying glass and concentrating it at just that right point, that's how we concentrate the sun to nearly the strength of a thousand suns that are on that high-density photovoltaic cell. The drastic benefit is it's six times more energy-efficient than your typical standard photovoltaic cell.
The downside is they run extremely hot. We have to pipe a coolant solution through the panels to extract the therms off that, the thermal. That's where we get the energy to heat up the hot water. The electric alone generates 60% of the electricity that we need. The hot water thermal part of it generates nearly 90% of all of the gas that it takes to heat up our hot water.
As every nonprofit knows, the summertime in Arizona are some of the hardest months for us. It's also a time of the year when the electric bills are the highest that they ever are. The electric bill for the Phoenix Dream Center in the month of September and August alone runs nearly $30,000, if you can imagine that. So our normal monthly operating budget is between $120,000 and $130,000 every single month. This project is going to save us 60% of that so about $110,000 on the electric side and about $30,000 to $40,000 on the natural gas side. The beauty of our system, the beauty of this model, is every dollar that is saved here is a dollar that's poured right back into the lives of the homeless and needy families and at risk youth that we serve here at the Dream Center.
Ted Simons: Steele says there are plans to install similar technology in other parts of Arizona and around the world.