Bell Labs installs 1.2 megawatts of solar

Alcatel-Lucent announced plans today to install a 1.2-megawatt photovoltaic solar system at its Bell Labs campus in New Jersey.

"We are excited about this solar power system because Bell Labs pioneered research on solar technology, so this connects Bell Labs to our past, while looking to the future," Jeong Kim, president of Bell Labs was quoted in a press release.

Bell Labs released the first solar panels in 1954 and used them to power phone service to rural farmers who lived off the grid, according to a press release from the company.

Those panels were developed out of necessity, said Mary Ward, director of corporate communications for Bell Labs.

Bell was owned by AT&T at the time, which had a monopoly on telephone service in the United States.

“And part of the responsibility of that monopoly was to provide service to everyone,” Ward said. “Service had to be ubiquitous.”

The science behind creating those panels helped to develop optic communications into what it is today, Ward said. But they were largely abandoned as energy sources when the electric grid expanded into rural areas.

The panels installed in 1954 are on display now in Bell Labs’ new technology exhibit in Murray Hill, N.J., which just opened today, Ward said. They generated 50 watts per square yard of solar panel surface, enough to provide phone service for a single family, according to the release.

The panels that Alcatel-Lucent is installing now are SunPower’s tested sun-tracking panels, which will produce 318 watts each. Together, they will generate 1.2 megawatts, enough to power about 200 homes, according to the press release.

The installation comes now, more than 50 years after Bell Labs first applied the technology, because Alcatel-Lucent has made a commitment to cut its greenhouse emissions in half by 2020, Ward said. The company has established green employee teams to brainstorm ways to make big impacts at its global locations.

The employee team in Murray Hill suggested taking advantage of New Jersey’s big state incentives for solar installations, Ward said. And the company responded.

"Alcatel-Lucent has made a serious commitment to environmental sustainability, and this is one step we are taking to honor that commitment,” Bell president Kim was quoted in the release. “We are working on ways to help our customers operate their own networks with more sustainable technology, which is the focus of a great deal of research at Bell Labs.”

Pictured: This awesome image is actually one of Bell Labs' first solar panels, installed in 1