Solar water heating in place at Denali Education Center

New system expected to save $9,000 per year in energy costs

Posted: Tuesday, September 01, 2009

MCKINLEY VILLAGE - The sun is helping heat the water at the Denali Education Center.

Officials gathered Friday for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at one of Alaska's largest solar water heating systems.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported the Alaska Energy Authority awarded $190,000 to Golden Valley Electric Association to commission the system. GVEA hired ABS Alaskan Inc. to design and install it.

"Golden Valley is excited to be in the project because it demonstrates that not only are we an electric company, we are also an energy company," GVEA President Brian Newton said. "We do care how much people consume. It's not just about selling electricity. It's about using it wisely."

The Denali Education Center hosts Elderhostel visits and sponsors youth programs, including Denali Discovery Camp, Denali Backcountry Adventure and WILD About Denali. The center's campus of cabins includes 17 water heaters powered by both electricity and propane.

The new solar heated water is expected to save the center as much as $9,000 per year in energy costs.

The sun doesn't directly heat the water. Instead, it heats a special glycol mix that runs through pipes in 1,300 square feet of panels that stand about 40 feet high.

The pipes run into the storage tank and disperse heat into the water. The glycol, still contained in the pipes, then loops back through the panels to be reheated.

Water is delivered to the cabins through 2,000 feet of insulated pipe. The system will be drained in winter, when residential programs are not operating.

One of the officials at the ribbon cutting, Sen. Joe Thomas, said it was done with Alaska companies and labor.

"I see it as one of many small, but very important pilot projects to expand our ability to use renewables in the state," he said.

GVEA owns the system, while Denali Education Center operates and maintains it.

"Not only will this system allow us to reduce cost, but it's also opening doors for education opportunities," said Jodi Rodwell, interim executive director of the center.

Denali Education Center is partnering with Solar Energy International and offering a training workshop for educators next summer.

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