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Sun Power

Bakersfield’s Project Brightfield

Have you ever wondered what the sun could be used for? And we’re not talking about tanning. If you think about the sun on the most basic level, it’s a big ball of energy. We use it every day and don’t even realize we do.

Think about it...the sun is such a powerful, prevalent part of Bakersfield, that it only seems natural to use some of those bright rays in an efficient and beneficial way. Of course, solar energy is already being used on a small scale. But did you ever consider that if there was a way to harness all that energy on a much grander scale, say for an entire neighborhood, that maybe it could be used to reduce the costs of summer electric bills or help our community rely less on finite resources?

Chevron Corporation took another step forward in solar-energy use when it announced a few months ago that it would be starting Project Brightfield in Bakersfield. What a catchy name! Because Chevron is such a big company in these parts, it only makes sense that our city would be a test site.

“As with any kind of emerging energy project, you look to see how it will fit with your existing operations,” said Chevron Technology Ventures Spokesperson Kim Copelin.

“We had the property, we had the solar resource, and it was near our existing operation.”

According to Copelin, the company had been planning this venture for over a year, and finally began operations in March of 2010.

The gist of the program is this: seven emerging solar technologies will be combined at the project site, in Northeast Bakersfield, to be tested and compared. Because of the type of solar technologies being tested and the fact that there are seven types, this is one of the most comprehensive solar energy tests of its kind. It’s a fantastic way to evaluate new technologies and it’s happening in our very own backyard.

Six of the panels are made of thin-film technologies, and one is made of crystalline-silicon photovoltaic technology. However, the technologies are different because of the chemical make-up of each panel. These technologies will be compared to standard solar technology, and the progress of each will be analyzed and tested further.

“The project itself is testing different solar technologies—which ones are more viable. Some haven’t been tested in the field yet and this is an opportunity to see how they’ll function in different environments,” Copelin added.

Spanning the 8-acre site are 7,700 different solar panels. It sounds like a lot, but to test the panels on a large scale, they’re all needed. The produced power will be directed to the local utility grid as well as to Chevron’s oil production operations at the Kern River Field.

A project like this is an opportunity for everyone to learn a whole lot more about solar energy.

Project Brightfield is just one of three solar projects that will be completed in 2010. The first one, located in Wyoming had successful results of 16.5 megawatts of power. Brightfield, located here in the Kern County, is preparing to be the second, with a proposed 740 kW of electricity. The third one, yet to be completed, will be built in New Mexico.

Project Brightfield has given a lot of people something to shine about (sun joke, anyone?). At the end of the day, all those involved have hopes that this test site will produce innovative ways of helping the entire community (and the entire country) with its energy needs.

So this summer, when you are out enjoying the beautiful sun with your family, stop and really think about the sun. This will, in turn, make the term “summer fun” have a much more significant and brighter meaning.

Article appeared in our 27-2 Issue - June 2010