Happy Campers Use Solar Energy in Grand Marais


by Jenna Lewein, CERTs Research Assistant • July 2011
Solar-heated showers in Grand Marais

As a place that hosts thousands of campers each summer, the Recreational Park in Grand Marais, Minnesota is a popular destination along the North Shore of Lake Superior. For members of the Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP), “Rec Park” is more than just a campground—today it is also an ideal location to demonstrate the power of renewable energy.

CCLEP is made up of dedicated individuals who work for the promotion of energy efficiency and local, renewable energy development in Cook County, Minnesota. Back in 2009, the CCLEP was looking for a way to demonstrate the benefits of solar hot water systems while also educating the community on their use in public and private buildings. Because of their vision, in 2010, a solar hot water system was successfully installed on the roof of a shower house in the Grand Marais Recreation Park that will save the city-owned park between $800 and $1,000 a year in hot water heating costs.

The proposed project was first brought to the attention of the Clean Energy Resource Teams when CCLEP submitted a grant proposal to the Northeast Clean Energy Resource Team (CERT) for its solar hot water system. The plan was enthusiastically supported by the NE CERT and local community.

Don Grant, owner of North Shore Sustainable Energy (NSSE) and leader of the project explains: “The work of CCLEP in recent years has made the community aware of the need for more sustainable energy usage. We simply described the benefits of the system and support was received.”

The project also received support from a variety of local sources: the Recreational Park Board and the City of Grand Marais, a NE CERT grant, as well as thousands of dollars from the Laura Jane Musser Fund and Buck’s Hardware Hank, which covered the project’s equipment costs.

In order to prepare for the installation of the solar hot water system, Grant monitored the hot water and energy usage, and the incoming water temperature of the shower house from May through mid-July 2010 so that the system could be built to the requirements of the facility. The system was designed by Mark Morgan of Bearpaw Design and Construction in Strum, Wisconsin, and NSSE. The final design was a five panel system anticipated to supply approximately 50% of the hot water needs of the facility.

Two large signs, designed by Gary Atwood of TEXTplorations, are mounted in display cases next to the entrances of the building and describe how the system works and the environmental benefits of using solar energy. The signs also have a space to post periodic system updates.

Originally, it was the older, oil-heated shower house on site that was going to undergo the installation; however, it was decided to install the system on the newer shower house instead. The newer shower house used electricity to heat its water, so using solar heating to replace the majority of its use offsets more carbon dioxide emissions. The new shower house also attracts many more visitors, which increases the number of people that will experience and learn about solar hot water systems. In addition, it was much more cost effective to install a system on a new roof versus an old roof that would need constant maintenance.

The panels installed on the roof of the shower house absorb sunlight shining down on them and convert it to heat energy. A temperature sensor monitors the panels, and when they become hot enough to heat the water, two pumps turn on, one that circulates a non-toxic antifreeze solution and one that draws from a water storage tank. The antifreeze solution is pumped through the solar panels and carries the heat into a heat exchanger where it heats the water. This hot water is then stored in a heated storage tank until it is used.

Since the park is only open from May to October, hot water is not needed in winter. At this time of year, the solar cells will be used to generate heat to warm the interior of the building, which was not heated before.

The production of hot water has been monitored by Grant all season. The solar cell unit has been producing hot water since May 15th, 2011 and as of August 1st, 2011 has saved the campground 1817 kilowatt hours of electricity, which is enough to power the average American home for two months. Although none of the campers have been formally asked what they think of the solar hot water system, Grant mentioned, “The panels have eliminated complaints about losing hot water in the bathhouse. In the past, complaints were common during the 4th of July and the local Fisherman’s Picnic (festival) weekends.” It’s a promising start to a project that will be supplying hot water—and education—to campers for seasons to come.

Project Snapshot

  • Project: Solar heated hot water in a shower house for campers; Education about solar technology
  • Technology: Solar hot water system
  • Grant: $5,000 NE CERT grant in addition to local funding support
  • Total Cost: $13,000

For more information, visit the CCLEP website at http://www.cookcountylep.org contact Don Grant from CCELP at dcgrant@boreal.org 218-370-9998.

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    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission