It’s an intriguing fact of nature that alligators, the ubiquitous denizens of the Everglades, are solar powered, with scaly skin that optimizes the sun’s rays to maintain energy. Now, thanks to a grant and new solar panels donated by Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), solar energy will power the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park, where hundreds of thousands of visitors can learn fascinating facts about solar energy, alligators and the Everglades.
Through a $25,000 donation, a matching grant from the National Park Service and an in-kind donation of solar panels, FPL is working with the South Florida National Parks Trust (SFNPT) and Everglades National Park to install a 12-kilowatt solar system at the visitor center in western Miami-Dade County. This is in addition to one of its groundbreaking energy-storage battery projects already in operation at Flamingo in Everglades National Park.
The new system is expected to generate more than 40 percent of the center’s energy needs.
“When you’re surrounded by an oasis of green space like the Everglades, opportunities abound to tell engaging stories about how nature powers this amazing ecosystem. Adding solar power to the mix is a perfect fit,” said SFNPT Chairman Wayne Rassner. “The Shark Valley Visitor Center is an ideal location to showcase renewable energy projects, and FPL’s solar panels will help visitors better understand this connection through interpretive exhibits and displays.”
The visitor center houses an information desk staffed by park rangers and volunteers, and features interpretive exhibits, a bookstore and a ticket counter for tram tours and bike rentals. The facility is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“FPL has powered South Florida for 90 years, and we share a commitment to protecting our community’s environmental treasures. We have partnered with Everglades National Park on a number of innovative projects, and we are thrilled to announce this latest endeavor. Our partnership results in clean, renewable energy to help power facilities at the park and educate the public. People come from all over the globe to visit and learn about America’s Everglades because it is a place of wonder with incredible environmental importance,” said Michael Sole, vice president of environmental services for FPL and FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy, Inc.
FPL is in the midst of installing one million solar panels across Miami-Dade County including the FPL Miami-Dade Solar Energy Center currently under construction, as part of one of the largest solar expansions in the country. FPL’s solar journey began in Miami more than 30 years ago with its first installation. It now operates 14 solar power plants and a major solar research facility at Florida International University.
Similar to solar panels, alligator skin absorbs heat from the sun. It is composed of bumpy scales made from keratin, which is the same protein found in hooves and horns, making it extremely tough. Heat is slowly radiated back into alligators’ bodies after the sun has gone, which allows these creatures to maintain a higher rate of energy over time and remain active far after other reptiles have lost their ability to regulate their body temperatures.