Aerial reconnaissance of renewable energy, aided by Google and Bing

September 02, 2009 | categories: energy | View Comments

Here's a story for you, told through links to satellite imagery.

In reading about concentrating solar thermal plants this morning, I learned of a copper electroplating operation in Chandler, AZ, that used 5500 m^2 of solar trough concentrators for process heat. Searching for "copper electroplating chandler arizona" on Google Maps yielded only one address actually in Chandler: Gould Electronics' foil division at 2929 W Chandler Blvd. I see a big lot with a lot of dirt and industrial stuff, but no solar thermal array.

Switch over to for their orthographic "bird's eye" imagery, and search for "2929 W Chandler Blvd, Chandler, AZ". This shows you what I assume is the Gould Electronics building, but I still don't see any solar thermal array.

A search for "gould electronics solar thermal" provides a link to a 1993 paper from NREL that discusses the operation of the plant over the course of 10 years. The NREL paper has a picture that shows the array. But why can't I see that in the aerial shots?

Screenshot-Gould Electronics solar thermal from NREL paper

Larger version

Change to the aerial view, and we have a surprise-- the building is gone! It's strange that Bing has images from two different times, but I suppose some of the images have to be older than others, and there's no point in trying to synchronize them, given how slowly buildings and roads change.

Going back to Google for confirmation, it turns out that all the dirt I noticed earlier was due to the fact that the photo was taken while the building was being demolished. Street view shows nothing but an empty lot.

Oh well-- no copper electroplating solar thermal array for me. As a consolation prize, here are the Kramer Junction plants, SEGS III-VII, built in the 80s. (Looks like about 10 out of their ~8440 troughs are substantially misaligned-- slightly more than 0.1%. I wonder whether we're seeing mechanical failures or controller or sensor errors. (And, no, I didn't count all the troughs. I used multiplication.))

More technical data on the SEGS plants, if you're interested.

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