Facebook to Install Hybrid Solar Power and Water System at New HQ

Facebook to Install Hybrid Solar Power and Water System at New HQ

Social media giant Facebook plans to install a rooftop solar power system that will provide hot water as well as electricity at the company's new corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

The hybrid 60-kilowatt system by the startup Cogenra will sit atop the building that houses the campus' 10,163-square-foot fitness center and is expected to generate enough energy to reduce natural gas needs by 60 percent and supply some of the electricity used in the gym. The energy from the system will be used to heat water for showers and power equipment and lights.

Highly visible green energy systems are becoming a hallmark of leading businesses in Northern California's Bay Area, from REI's rooftop solar installations in Santa Rosa and San Francisco to Adobe's novel vertical wind turbines on its LEED-Platinum rated headquarters in San Jose.

The system by Cogenra, a Bay Area company based in Mountain View, will be the first one installed at a corporate campus and has an expected payback period of less than five years. I asked Facebook how it came to focus on that technology.A rendering of the installation at Facebook. Courtesy of Cogenra.

"We are focused on efficiency and sustainability for our new headquarters, and installing this system on our fitness center represents our first foray into clean energy on that campus," said Facebook spokeswoman Marcy Scott Lynn, in an email.

"We evaluated various technologies to meet our hot water needs and came to appreciate Cogenra's innovative and cost-effective system, as well as the fact that it's a local company," she said. "We will continue to evaluate the long-term benefits to this technology, and explore other uses we may find for our facilities."

By delivering electricity as well as hot water, Cogenra contends its technology yields five times the energy output, three times the greenhouse gas reductions and twice the savings of typical photovoltaic solar power systems. The company says it can do that because its system harnesses and converts as much as 75 percent of the energy provided by the sun, compared to the 15 to 17 percent of standard systems.

Cogenra modules feature a single-axis tracker, which enables each unit to follow the sun over the course of a day, and mirrors that concentrate sunlight on solar cells to generate electricity. The units also have a tube filled with fluid that absorbs solar energy as heat and carries it to water to heat it. The chart below shows how the system works.



The hybrid green energy system is one of several environmental elements Facebook is building into its new headquarters and is part of the company's efforts to make its operations more sustainable.

The move from the firm's current base in Palo Alto to the nine-building campus in nearby Menlo Park is expected to be complete by year's end, and the company has put considerable work into energy efficient lighting and exploring other ways to reduce the facility's draw on resources, as an EDF Climate Corps fellow found this past summer.

Other environmental elements at the headquarters, which Facebook purchased from Oracle and renovated, include water efficiency fixtures and systems; energy efficient equipment as well as electrical and mechanical systems; waste and transportation management programs; and use of low-VOC and non-toxic building materials. The company plans to seek LEED-Gold certification for its new facility, said Lynn.

News of the hybrid energy system was the latest in a string of green developments to come from Facebook. The company, which has been criticized by Greenpeace about data center expansion, announced in October that it plans to build a green data center in Sweden. Also last month, the firm embarked on a home energy efficiency initiative with Opower and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Photo of a Cogenra installation, courtesy of the company.