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Solar Energy International Assists the National Park Service with Solar PV Integration

Posted by: chris
December 20, 2012

Solar Energy International (SEI) has been assisting the National Park Service (NPS) in eastern Utah over the past couple years with solar electric design and installation consulting services. The various Parks in the region have numerous PV systems, mostly of the “stand-alone” variety due to their remote locations. Being early adopters, these National Parks are now replacing 20-year-old, off-grid PV systems that have served the parks and public well.

This fall SEI completed a project in Arches National Park working with their maintenance staff to upgrade an existing stand-alone PV system that provides power to a comfort station and host site in Devils Garden Campground. The first upgrades were completed this past spring with the installation of a new 7-0kilowatt ground-mounted array, inverter system, and battery bank. This system upgrade will enable the Park Service to operate these facilities with minimal use of the onsite generator. Minimizing generator run time in this remote area of the Park allows for savings in fuel and maintenance costs as well as the added benefit of reduced noise and air pollution concerns in this pristine environment where over one million visitors come each year to experience the splendid nature Arches National Park has to offer.

Having a modular system that can easily be expanded upon in the future was a key consideration for the new system design. This is especially important as the campground host rotates among numerous volunteers and can change several times during one summer season as well as from one year to the next. Each host has a different RV set-up with varying load demands that must be supported by the stand-alone PV system. Due to sweltering conditions for several months of the summer, air conditioning for the campground host is a substantial load on the system. In addition to powering the loads for the campground host, the system will also provide lighting for the comfort station which serves the campground guests.

The inverter and battery systems were both upgraded from vintage era equipment; the manufacturer is Outback Power, based in Arlington, WA. A Flexware 1000 power center allows for future expansion of the system if needed. This power center has been outfitted with two VFX3648 inverters with the ability to add two more units if future loads require expansion of the power capacity. Two side mounted FM80 charge controllers handle the output of the ground-mounted PV array, and a third controller is connected to the roof array. A Deka Unigy II sealed battery bank will provide sufficient capacity with minimal maintenance, which was another key aspect of the system design – minimizing maintenance for staff.

The ground-mounted array is elevated to provide adequate clearance of natural vegetation with minimal maintenance over time. Racking components were selected with an emphasis on ease of installation for the maintenance staff that has limited experience with installing PV systems. With that in mind, we selected UniRac’s ULA racking system that has a structure similar to assembling standard fencing. In addition to this new ground mounted array, the existing roof array has been reconfigured to match the new system design and specifications.

Completion of the project concluded with a training for the maintenance staff. This training covered the essential responsibilities for maintaining and operating the system. Daily and monthly logging of the system operation and any issues that arise will be included to ensure that historical records are kept and available to existing and future staff. Basic system troubleshooting was also covered to demonstrate a typical procedure for an off-grid system including safely commissioning and decommissioning the system.

SEI looks forward to continuing its relationship with the National Park Service in the future!

Jeff Tobe
PV Lab Manager & Instructor
ISPQ Certified Instructor
NABCEP Certified PV Installer
NABCEP Certified PV Technical Sales

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