Sandia LabNews

August 8 great day for solar power technologies

August 8 great day for solar power technologies

Monday, Aug. 8, was a great day for concentrating solar power technologies, says Sandia researcher Chuck Andraka (6218).

That was when Labs Director Tom Hunter showed off Sandia’s different solar power technologies, and in particular six Stirling Energy Systems solar collector dishes, at the Sandia-operated, DOE-owned National Solar Thermal Test Facility to President George W. Bush. Also on hand for the tour were Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and US Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Taking center stage in preparing for the president’s visit to the solar facility was Chuck, the lead engineer who has been involved from the beginning in planning, constructing, and calibrating the six Stirling units. Filling critical supporting roles were the employees who work at the Solar Thermal Test Facility in Dept. 6218, located south of Tech Area 3. Behind the scenes, efforts by Sandia’s facilities, safety, security, media relations, and graphics arts groups also helped make the presidential tour a success.

The six-dish mini power plant — the largest array of solar dish-Stirling systems in the world — works together to provide enough grid-ready solar electricity to power more than 40 homes. They produce up to 150kW of grid-ready electrical power during the day. Sandia and Stirling Energy Systems (SES), which owns the dishes, worked together over the past several months to assemble and test the state-of-the-art systems.

Chuck says he was recalled early from his August vacation for a “security issue.”

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Chuck says. “When I arrived, Margie Tatro [director of Energy, Infrastructure, & Knowledge System Center 6200] and VP 6000 Les Shephard told me that the president was coming and they wanted to see Solar Tower activities, and especially the SES dishes. We immediately began a weeklong preparation for the visit. Les was enthusiastic, and that became contagious.”

A Sandia team spent 12-hour days cleaning the mirrors on the dishes, rewriting scripts, moving equipment, and testing operations. They covered safety, security, choreography, press opportunities, and many other angles.

Tom was tapped to give a briefing to the president on the Solar Tower activities prior to the president’s going to the Steve Schiff Auditorium to sign the new energy bill. Margie, Rich Diver, Jeff Nelson (manager of Solar Technologies Dept. 6218), and Chuck wrote and rewrote a script for Tom, who “proved to be a quick and enthusiastic study.”

“He anticipated a lot of possible questions, and we supplied him with a continuous flow of factoid sheets,” Chuck says. “We were faced with two to three walkthroughs per day, each with different challenges such as security, photo angles, technical details, and personnel. It was a joy working with Tom, Les, and Margie throughout the preparations.”

Chuck says Les was the “image man.”

“He insisted on an American flag to be reflected in the dishes,” he says. “On Friday we had one Fed-Exed from Colorado.”
Daniel Ray and J.J. Kelton (both 6218) spent the day hanging the huge flag on the side of the building, keeping safety in mind throughout. Chuck says Les was elated and then asked “where were the thunderbirds.” They quickly found the appropriate thunderbird decals and, with guidance from Sandia’s media relations staff, affixed them to some equipment as well.

Ten minutes before the president arrived at the Solar Thermal Test Facility, Margie and Chuck briefed Secretary Bodman on Sandia’s solar technologies.

“Everything went smoothly for the president’s visit,” Chuck says. “We had contingencies for every possible failure scenario, but needed none. Tom did a great job covering our technologies, even pointing out the windows where the rest of the staff was located so the president could wave to them.”

The president was so engaged in the Stirling Energy Systems units he wanted to know who was the primary technical lead working on the project. Tom looked in Chuck’s direction, but told the president he couldn’t immediately find him because Chuck “didn’t normally wear a suit.”

“The president shouted over to me, ‘I’m glad you wore a suit today.’ He then waved me out to see him,” Chuck says. “I checked with the Secret Service and they said go.”

So Chuck ran out to meet the president and shake his hand. He got in only a few short comments about the dish systems that were moving into position and beginning to generate power. Tom then described the systems and Sandia’s partnership with SES.

The president appeared very interested in the technology. When he was guided back toward the presidential limo at 11 minutes, he stopped and asked Tom questions for another four minutes, fully using the allotted 15-minute window.

“I was excited beyond belief that the project I am most associated with was highlighted for this visit,” Chuck says. “I think the point got across through Tom’s talk that this is a technology ready for commercialization and that we have key partnerships with industry that will bring this vision to reality soon.”