There are a lot of communities with outdoor swimming pools in Minnesota, and many of them struggle with the high costs of keeping them heated. Kelly Fischer, who just completed her work as program assistant with the University of Minnesota’s Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, created a step-by-step manual to help folks use a free software system and figure out the payback for a solar thermal system installed at their community swimming pool. We caught up with Kelly to learn more.
Can you tell us a little bit about RETscreen and the user manual you have created?
RETScreen is a free software system that assesses the feasibility of projects in the areas of renewable energy and sustainability. By entering numbers based on the project or current facility, you can receive information on the energy, installation, and cost savings that this project might provide. Several towns in the southwestern region of Minnesota have expressed interest in using solar thermal energy to heat their outdoor community pools. This user manual was created to help guide individuals and community facilities through the RETScreen program and to produce results on how feasible this option would be for their outdoor pools. While RETScreen is a helpful tool, it asks the user to provide some numbers that the user may not know. The manual helps the user to fill in these numbers based on research and the help from Morris local solar expert, Eric Buchanan. It also provides pictures and screenshots so that the user can follow along and see which numbers should be entered into which cells.
About how long do you think it might take someone to fill in the information about their swimming pool?
I think that the biggest challenge of the user manual is that, despite being only fourteen pages with pictures included, it is fairly dense. I do think it is valuable to read all of the details to make sure that the cost and energy estimations are accurate, but I do not think the process would take more than an hour and a half. This would be if all of the information needed to complete the assessment was already at hand.
During your work on this project, did anything jump out at you about solar thermal and swimming pool heating?
One of the more fascinating things I observed while working on this project was the different rates at which solar thermal technology begins to pay off. For some facilities, it takes about three years to earn back installation costs. For others, closer to twenty years. However, when a facility has fully paid off the installation of solar thermal, the savings are quite generous and exponential over time. If a facility is worried about not making their money back, it is important to note that while it may take a long time for some, the end result pays off. It is of course the choice of the facility of whether or not installation costs are feasible at this time, but if a community is considering solar thermal as an option, RETScreen and the user manual I created can help them better understand the financials before moving forward.