San Francisco Department of the Environment

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Alcatraz Island is Going Green

Historic Island Powered by Solar PV

The historic island, located in the middle of San Francisco Bay, is home to the oldest lighthouse on the West Coast, but is better known for its notorious federal penitentiary that once held Al Capone. Though the prison closed in 1963, 1.4 million visitors now tour Alcatraz each year. Helping light their way is a new 280 kW solar photovoltaic installation on the roof of the island’s main cell house, which will provide roughly 66% of the island’s electricity needs. The solar array will operate in combination with an extensive battery bank system to maximize solar electricity generation and storage.

Since an electrical cable connecting Alcatraz to San Francisco power was severed in the 1950s, two diesel generators have been powering the island’s facilities. The new solar array will substantially reduce the need for diesel generated power and avoid the combustion of tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel each year, saving taxpayers money and reducing air pollution in the Bay Area. This fuel switching technique from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy will help the National Park Service to meet its carbon reduction obligation under President Obama’s Executive Order, requiring all federal agencies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020.

Not only will the island begin generating its own electricity, but the Park Service will also be focusing on reducing energy consumption through a suite of energy efficiency measures.

In addition to the island’s new solar panels and energy efficiency measures, tourist voyages to the island are available on hybrid ferries. These vessels use energy from two on-board wind turbines and solar panels to power navigation tools, lighting, and even a portion of its propulsion system.

The Alcatraz solar project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

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