Friday, January 25, 2013

Taming the Arizona Sun

As usual, we tried to find a different road to take us from where we are to where we want to be. Coming out of the city of Casa Grande we took a new route that mostly took us in the direction of the RV Park. We discovered businesses and factories we never knew existed: we finally found out that the building that stuck up from the flat Casa Grande horizon was an Abbott Pharmaceutical facility where they make products like Ensure. Beyond Abbott’s is a Frito Lay complex that seemed to go on for miles.
Frito Lay
On the other side of the Frito Lay buildings, there were rows and rows of solar panels. A high chain-link fence protected them from wandering explorers like ourselves.
I never thought of Arizona as being particularly environmentally friendly so the sight of this solar array surprised me. But it makes sense – Arizona boasts that it is the State with the highest number of sunny days each year – and heaven knows there is ample flat desert space to establish a solar farm.
Frito Lay (part of PepsiCo) in Casa Grande has instituted what they call their “near net zero” vision. They aspire to “be as far off the grid as possible and run primarily on renewable energy sources and recycled water, while producing nearly zero landfill waste.”
Over 18,000 solar panels sit on over 36 acres and can produce in excess of 10 million kilowatt-hours of electrical power. These are what they call photovoltaic (PV) systems - meaning that solar radiation is collected through the panels and converted directly into current electricity. Frito Lay’s system is multi-directional meaning it runs on both dual and single track axes.
We sat and watched all those panels move in unison as they followed the sun across the sky.

According to Frito Lay, they chose the Casa Grande location because it is big enough to be effective and small enough to be manageable. The goal is to use 90% less water, 80% less natural gas 90% less electricity, and keep 99% of the waste out of the landfill. In Casa Grande, they partner with the local utility Arizona Public Service. Casa Grande is an environmental learning lab. Thus far, they claim that the Casa Grande facility has achieved 85% reduction in electricity load.
The Agua Caliente Solar Project
Sometimes you just have to take the Interstate highway like Interstate 8 from Casa Grande to Yuma. But this time it turned out okay.
About 65 miles east of Yuma (around Dateland) there is another even more massive array of solar panels. This field is called the Agua Caliente Solar Project and now has the capacity to provide electricity to over 100,000 homes every year. It takes up about 2,400 acres of land in one of the most consistently sunny areas in the USA and is close to existing electrical transmission lines.
The panels, themselves, are different from the ones we saw in Casa Grande – they are concave rather than the conventional flat and are considered to be significantly more efficient. (According to the Japanese Journal of Physics a concave panel can generate output with a conversion efficiency of 16.3%; while a conventional panel generates an output of about 14.3%) 

The project is expected to be completed in 2014, when it will reach a capacity of 397 Megawatts and will be enough to service more than 225,000 homes.
Incredible the things you see and learn along the road!!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Another Treasure in Tucson: The Boneyard

Even last year, Fred wanted to visit the Boneyard. Greg told him he could see it from outside the fence. We looked but there was no place to pull off the road so he didn’t get a chance to see it. This year, when we saw the Aerospace Museum in the Tucson Passport Savings book, we decided to try again.
The Boneyard is actually separate from the Museum. You don’t need to pay to get into the Museum to tour the Boneyard, but you do need to access the tickets through the cashier there.
There is no doubt – the USA is totally into their military. And the AMARC (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center) – The Boneyard – is a major facility attached to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. There aircraft is stored, maintained and rejuvenated for all branches of the military.
Not interested in old airplanes?
I didn’t think I was either but this was different.
We toured around the 2600 acres (with over 4200 aircraft) on a bus with a veteran guide with an intimate knowledge and interest in many of the aircraft. Every year between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors tour the "Boneyard."
In 1946, a place was needed to store the old planes and bombers out of WWII. Tucson was the perfect place to store the equipment – it’s dry and the ground can support the weight of some of these monstrous mechanical birds.

The yard extends as far as you can see against a backdrop of Arizona mountains and deep blue sky.

When an aircraft is brought in for storage:
• All guns, ejection seat charges, and classified hardware are removed.
• The fuel system is drained, refilled with lightweight oil, and then draining it again (for protection).
• It is sealed by a variety of materials from simple garbage bags to high tech vinyl plastic spray to protect it from dust, sunlight, and high temperatures. It is then towed to its designated "storage" position.
There are four categories of storage:
• Long Term – Aircraft are kept intact for future use
• Parts Reclamation – Aircraft are kept, picked apart and used for spare parts
• Flying Hold – Aircraft are kept intact for shorter stays than Long Term
• Excess of Department of Defence needs – Aircraft are sold off whole or in parts
Not being particularly aircraft-savvy, I did catch some of the names mentioned by our Guide including the YC-14, a prototype cargo plane designed to replace the C-130 Hercules, and the F-100 Super Sabre, the first U.S. Air Force aircraft to break the sound barrier and the F-4 Phantom, the most numerous American military supersonic built (5195). They were used from 1960 to the mid 90’s.
There are all kinds of aircraft and equipment stored there:
Big and Small



And Others