January 2018 - LIVING ON EARTH
Let’s Make Some Snow
By Skip Holmes
Winter officially started on December 21 and many of us have been anticipating the season by doing the annual ’snow dance’ to encourage mother nature to bring significant snowfalls in for our winter sports activities. In recent years the snow has started later and ended sooner. Just ask the Nordic skiers about the number of times they have skied. Downhill skiers on the other hand have had the benefit of artificial snowmaking to provide them with adequate cover on the mountains.
However, this artificial snow does come with a cost. Those lift tickets are paying for more than the employees and equipment. Snowmaking requires significant quantities of compressed air and water. The compressed air is provided by very large air compressors and water pumps that push water up the mountain.
The Whiteface ski area uses over 15 million kilowatt hours of electricity to run their operation at a cost of over one million dollars annually. To put that in perspective, the average US residential utility customer uses 10,766 kilowatt hours a year. Whiteface uses the equivalent electricity of 1,400 houses a year. They have recently committed to using 100% renewable energy for their facility and are installing a 2.6 megawatt solar farm. Gore Mountain also uses large quantities of electricity for snowmaking and has recently installed a 5.3 megawatt photovoltaic system to produce the energy required to manufacture snow.
This is all part of the New York State plan to drastically reduce our reliance on non-renewable electric energy sources. Initiatives like this are helping to reduce the carbon impact in the Adirondacks. Both of these ski areas are working towards minimizing their ecological impact with sustainable initiatives.
Another source of renewable energy is wind power. You may have seen the wind generator near the Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort. In 2007 they installed a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine at a cost of $4 million. Seven years later the wind generator has paid for itself! They recently installed a 2.3 megawatt solar system to produce additional electricity for the ski area and buildings. They now are running on 100% renewable energy. When they produce more energy than they need the surplus is exported to the electric grid for others to use. The air compressors that supply air for the snow guns produce large amounts of waste heat that normally would discharge to the atmosphere. At Jiminy Peak they capture the waste heat and use it to heat 36,000 square feet of their buildings. That is equivalent to heating 15 homes all winter. This ski area has become a model of how to reduce energy use and provide power from renewable solar and wind energy sources. They have produced a video called “Forever Green” that is shown to school groups. You can read more about this amazing success story at renewableenergyworld.com.
So how do we continue to grow the installation of renewable power to reduce the emissions from fossil fuel use? Have you considered installing a solar system at your home? Could you install it on your roof or even in your yard? If you live in an apartment, there is yet another way. There are now community solar system projects being developed all over New York State. These systems allow you to participate in a joint effort to buy into a project and agree to receive the power at a reduced rate. For additional information go to the NYSERDA website (nyserda.gov) and search for Community Power.
Many local governments have installed solar power systems as part of their commitments to the New York State climate action plan. In the town of Bethlehem, where I live, they have installed a 3.75 megawatt solar system on a parcel of land that was no longer being utilized. They utilized a contract where they provide the land and get a reduction in their electricity cost with no upfront cost to the town. If your community has not yet developed a solar system, ask them when they are going to.
The recent hurricanes that caused considerable damage to the electric grid in Puerto Rico have resulted in many people not having power for months. Many buildings have been running on portable generators using gasoline or diesel fuel. Recently Tesla, the manufacturer of electric vehicles and also of solar power panels and battery storage systems, stepped in and delivered solar panels and battery systems to alleviate the power shortage. These innovative integrated renewable energy systems will be a game changer for many of us as we move towards a future where we reduce or eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels and continue to slow down the impacts that climate change will have on future generations.
As of 2016, there was a total of 1,066 megawatts of solar electric systems installed in New York State. In just the year 2016 there was 280 megawatts of power installed. There are now over 175,000 homes in the state that have solar panels installed. The state is now number ten for installed capacity in the US. Yet as large as these statistics seem, this represents less than three percent of all electric energy produced in NYS.
So where does your energy come from? Now that the days have become shorter and the outside temperature is colder many of us have moved our sports training indoors. Are you now running on a treadmill or putting your bike on the trainer or headed to the gym to take a spin class? Regardless of how and where we are training, we are producing watts and measuring it. For example, you are riding your bike on the trainer and measuring your power output in watts. If your average output was 200 watts for an hour then you produced 0.2 kilowatt hours (kWh). Nice workout, but the energy you produced in that hour is woefully insufficient to even run the toaster!
A typical home is upstate New York might use between 700 to 1,000 kilowatt hours in a month. If you assume 900 kWh in a month, then each day you would need 30 kWh, and you have to ride the trainer 24 hours a day to produce 1.25 kWh or 1,250 watts/hour. I do not know anyone who can do that!
So how else can you get that electricity to run your house? Most homes are connected to the utility company and pay a monthly charge to run everything in the house. Have you ever actually looked at your electric bill to see how much electricity you use? You may know how much you paid but it is not likely that you could tell someone how many kilowatt hours you used. You might be able to share how many gallons of fuel you used in your vehicle and how much the last fill up cost. Why the difference in information? You had to pay for the fuel at the pump and it was in your face, so to speak. With electricity use the bill comes a month later and we have no feedback to the actual use.
With all the talk about energy use, environmental concerns and climate change, perhaps we should be considering how we use electricity and how we produce it. First, we should consider how we can use less electricity and make adjustments in our usage. Then, we should look at alternatives to producing electric power from fossil fuel sources. There is a worldwide effort to develop additional solar photovoltaic and wind energy systems. Here in the US, and more specifically New York, there are increasing amounts of these renewable energy systems being installed. So you may be a small time producer of energy and a big time user. Let’s consider a new training plan to use less energy and produce more!
Skip (Oliver) Holmes of Delmar is a professional engineer, a Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) professional, and teaches Sustainable Design courses at the RPI School of Architecture. He is an outdoor enthusiast who is a cyclist, Nordic skier, paddler and hiker.