Intelligent Energy

Facebook will use solar for power and hot water

Facebook will use solar for power and hot water

Posting in Design

Facebook's fitness center will use an innovative hybrid solar system built by a California startup to keep the lights on and ensure those post-workout showers are nice and warm.

Facebook's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters will be outfitted with a solar power system that will supply its fitness center with electricity and heat water for those post-workout showers.

The solar array designed by startup Cogenra Solar won't set any capacity records. The 24 modules will produce 60 kilowatts of combined heat and electricity for the fitness center.  The system will generate 10 kilowatts of electricity and 50 kW of thermal. In comparison, the average residential solar system generated about 5.7 kW of electricity, according to the U.S. Solar Market Trends 2010 report released this summer.

However, the announcement is notable for two reasons: the technology; and it's another example of an encouraging trend among energy-intensive Internet companies like Google and Apple to invest in renewable sources of power. And while the system is just being used for the fitness center, a Cogenra spokesman told me there are plans discussions for the technology to be applied to other areas of Facebook's expansion sites.

The technology

Traditional photovoltaic systems convert about 17 percent of the sun's energy into electricity. The rest of the energy is wasted, mostly in the form of heat. Cogenra's hybrid system captures that waste heat and uses it to heat water and cool the PV components.

Cogenra says its technology captures up to 75 percent of the sun's delivered energy and converts it into electricity and hot water within a single solar array.  The system yields five times the energy of traditional PV installations, according to the company.  Check out the infographic below, which explains how the Cogenra tech works.

A few project details

  • The 24-module array will offset more than 60 percent of the building's natural gas use;
  • Cogenra wouldn't reveal the price of the project. However, the company said returns are expected in less than five years (about half of a traditional photovoltaic system).
  • Energy produced will be used for lighting and heating the facility's water needs including the showers;

Photos: Cogenra

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure