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Santa Monica's Ferris Wheel Goes Solar

October 23, 1998|SUE McALLISTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The sun rose Thursday on a new era in outdoor amusements: The Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier became the first in the world to operate on solar energy.

The Pacific Wheel, as the ride is known, is now powered by 660 solar panels mounted on the pier. The panels will generate about 71,000 kilowatt hours of energy a year for the Ferris wheel, with enough left over to power an information kiosk.

Using solar energy will save Pacific Park, the pier's amusement concessionaire, about $7,000 a year in electricity costs.

More important, officials said, it will draw the attention of thousands of visitors to solar energy.

"The challenge is to have people understand how easily this technology works, the fact that you can put it in and forget about it," said Vikram Budhraja, president of Edison Technological Solutions, which installed the photovoltaic energy system.

The Ferris wheel conversion was jointly paid for by Edison Technological Solutions, the federal Department of Energy, California Energy Commission and the Utility PhotoVoltaic Group.

The $350,000 project took four months and is part of a $73-million effort funded by private industry and the federal Department of Energy to introduce solar energy to homes, schools, businesses and other venues across the country.

"You don't have to have a California sun to provide meaningful solar energy," said Jeff Serfass of the Utility PhotoVoltaic Group, which represents more than 100 utility companies and energy service providers nationwide.

On days when the sun doesn't generate enough electricity to power the Pacific Wheel, the machine will draw from the park's traditional electricity supply. Pier visitors riding the Pacific Wheel's red and yellow octagonal passenger buckets will never know the difference.

Santa Monica High School student Kelsey Walker, 16, was among the first to ride the wheel after it went solar Thursday. Even though ride operators said there was no reason the wheel would be quieter using the new energy source, Walker said the trip was different from the previous 50 or so times she's ridden it.

"It doesn't creak as much," she said.

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