Aquarium’s solar demonstration project exceeds expectations

Aquarium’s solar demonstration project exceeds expectations

SEATTLE — Approximately two months after its unveiling, a new solar demonstration project, heating water for the Seattle Aquarium café, is exceeding expectations — performance data has shown that the five flat-plate solar collectors, on the south facing wall of Pier 59, have off-set almost double their expected consumption of natural gas.

“Since the system was installed, in the last six months our monitoring system shows a reduction of about 2.7 metric tons to date, we should easily exceed three metric tons by the first year (June 2010),” said Mark Plunkett, conservation curator of the Seattle Aquarium. “This is the CO2 that would have been generated if we had heated café water with natural gas instead.”

The solar demonstration project, which is Seattle’s first project of its kind, reduces the aquarium’s use of natural gas by preheating water used in the second floor café. It is estimated that the five solar panels will shrink the aquarium’s carbon footprint by 2.5 tons of CO2 each year and teach visitors about renewable energy sources.

"This just goes to show how well solar really works in our climate," said Reeves Clippard, president, owner and co-founder of A&R Solar, the Seattle-based solar company that installed the aquarium’s solar hot water system. "It's my hope that projects like these will serve as a call to action. If solar works well here in Seattle, the rest of the country has no excuse not to act now."

A&R Solar installed five 4-ft. x 8-ft. Heliodyne Gobi flat-plate solar hot water collectors on the aquarium's south-facing wall. The system incorporates copper piping, a SuperStor Ultra 119-gal. stainless steel tank by Heat Transfer Products, and a Caleffi iSolarPlus differential controller. The backup water heater is an A.O. Smith Cyclone high-efficiency gas-fired water heater.

A&R Solar also installed a custom frame to hold and protect the solar array from strong winds coming off the Puget Sound, and the system uses two monitoring devices, Fat Spaniel and Bejouled, allowing visitors to view its performance in real time.

According to Clippard, an installation of this scale would only take a week, but it took about three weeks to install the system because work had to be done after hours and around special events at the aquarium.

"We are pleased to be the first company to bring solar technologies to the Seattle Aquarium," said Andy Yatteau, vice president and co-founder of A&R Solar. "This system will be here for decades showing kids and their parents what the future of energy will look like."

Installation of the solar hot water system was approximately $28,000. City Light and Puget Sound Energy each paid $11,630 with the Aquarium Society contributing $2,000 and the Aquarium paying $3,000.

“Seattle might be known as Rain City, but solar works in Seattle,” said Seattle City Light Conservation Director Bob Balzar. “This public-private partnership shows how renewable energy can help us meet our everyday needs while reducing our impact on the planet.”

“As a utility, we know that smart energy choices are a vital part of taking care of Puget Sound waters,” said Kimberly Harris, executive vice president and chief resource officer for Puget Sound Energy. “This solar hot water heating project demonstrates how new energy technologies can help preserve our region’s marine life.”

According to Plunkett, this was done solely as a demonstration project to teach aquarium visitors about the potential of using sustainable energy in homes.

“We are concerned about effects of climate change on marine ecosystems and wanted to play a role in inspiring our visitors and cutting our CO2 emissions a bit,” explained Plunkett. “Our contractor, A & R Solar, estimated we could cut emissions by 2.5 metric tons per year. The system was designed to meet over half the hot water needs of our café in a year. Since installation in June, it’s provided over 60% (with the balance heated by natural gas).”

Through signage, aquarium visitors will learn about the solar hot water project and how renewable energy can be utilized in homes. An interactive display, providing real-time data about the system’s performance, is planned.

“With this solar project, we hope to provide a model of sustainability that can inspire our visitors and other zoos and aquariums to do what they can to take climate action now,” said John Braden, director of the Seattle Aquarium.

TAGS: Solar