Sacramento's Darkened Ziggurat

The Ziggurat building in West Sacramento looks like a step pyramid, like the ones you might see in ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia. But this modern pyramid has eleven steps, corresponding to its eleven stories, a bit more than the step pyramids of Egypt or the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. The Ziggurat building is currently owned by California’s State Dept. of General Services, or DGS.

Will Sacramento’s Ziggurat serve reminder,
that we were a cradle of greentech civilization?

In the old days, this beautiful building was lit at night by warm floodlights that made the sides of the square building glow like a white canvas tent that has illuminations burning inside.

Those lights took a gem of a building and turned it into an ethereal and enchanting jewel, and every night its reflection shone in the Sacramento River, and could be seen in the reflective sides of the multi-story downtown buildings on the eastern shore.

Today the Ziggurat building looms in the dark like a gloomy phantom, because we must not emit CO2. And how much CO2 are we talking about? If we assume CO2 emitted equates to energy expended, then we know we have to figure out how much electricity these lights require, and install a sustainable (and non-CO2!) power supply.

According to sources, the electric bill to light the Ziggurat at night is about $300 per month, and that really isn’t a lot of electricity – if we assume they paid $.10 per kilowatt-hour, we’re talking 3,000 kilowatt-hours, or 100 kilowatt-hours per night. Just park and hook up two fully charged Tesla Roadsters, and you’d have just enough.

With at least eight good hours of sun at 12 watts per square foot output, you would need 15,000 square feet of photovoltaic array to store 100 kilowatt-hours each day. Even in winter, a good 15,000 square foot, 12.5 kilowatt (output in full sun) PV array could easily produce enough electricity each day to power the lights on the Ziggurat each night. At $10 per watt (installed), this solar power system will cost $125,000.

Ah, but you might say – what about the storage of that electricity? Well let’s assume we use batteries to store all this electricity, and let’s assume these batteries don’t cost more per kWh than, say the batteries in the Tesla Roadster. Since the Tesla Roadster has about 50 kWh of battery storage onboard, if we assume 50% of the $100K cost for a Tesla Roadster is for the battery pack, then battery storage costs $1,000 per kilowatt. That is probably on the high side for what we need at the Ziggurat building – but let’s just say the storage system will cost $100,000. It will probably cost a lot less than that.

So what sort of bang can we get for this 100 kWh we’re ready to throw into the night sky in the form of glorious, frivolous illumination? If you figure the Ziggurat building is 400 feet long and 300 feet wide, with eleven “steps” with 20 feet between each step, then the total sum of all eleven progressively smaller floor circumferences is 28,600 linear feet. If you put one 8 watt LED bulb every 28 feet, then you will have exactly one thousand inspiring points of light to envelop the Ziggurat. At a mind-blowing $30 apiece, you still only add another $30,000 to purchase the bulbs for a system that, clearly, can be built for under $250,000.

Is this just a boondoggle to please the aesthetically minded among us? Well anything that does nothing but make the world more beautiful is a boondoggle, if you put it that way. But what is the return on investment for this installation? If you figure you’re saving $3,600 per year in electric costs at the night rate of $.10 per kWh, you’ve only got half the picture. During the summer when there are more hours of sun, the system will generate surplus energy to help power the buiding during the day, which at peak rates of $.25 per kWh, will earn another $2,300. Using conservative assumptions, the system will return 2.3% per year before any subsidies or credits.

What’s stopping this simple adapatation so Sacramentans can admire and be inspired by a beautiful building again? Can’t we let these lights shine in the darkness, reminding us that we live in a spectacular city? Turn on the lights! As long as we don’t allow our obsession with CO2 emissions to cause us to overlook (or even enable) the destruction of our forests and fisheries, the earth will abide.

As for the costs – please know that if you deferred the retirement benefits of just one average public sector worker within this building for five years, you would have more than enough money to pay for this sustainable lighting system. And know that the funds from CO2 offset credits and CO2 taxes will not be paying for this photovoltaic system, they will mainly be paying to keep afloat the otherwise completely unsustainable public sector retirement benefits. So as private sector taxpayers sign up for reverse mortgages to supplement their social security, while paying more for their “footprints,” they might please understand which way the financial river flows, and why.

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