Solar Power at Parker Dam State Park
By Eric Rensel
Have you ever heard of a Kronosport? It is a pedal utility cart with battery assist, made by a startup company near Philadelphia.
Back in the year 2000, the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks purchased four of them, one for each State Park region, to be used/showcased by park staff. The company that made them is no more, and three of the four vehicles are no longer in use. But one of them has found new life, thanks to the Friends Group at Parker Dam State Park. They purchased new tires, tubes, a deep cycle battery, and they donated a 75watt solar charger to the project. The result is the Bureau of State Parks first off-grid electric vehicle. It gets a lot of attention when it goes by, and even more when people realize that it is running on stored solar energy.
The park manager then asked, “What would it take to take the campground amphitheater off-grid?”
After a short feasibility study (involving a calculator, solar insolation chart, and reading the wattage draws of the various equipment), the park purchased the necessary equipment and built a solar generator capable of providing all the electricity needed for an evening program.
The solar generator consists of two 65 amp hour batteries, a 600watt pure sine wave power inverter, solar charge controller, and three 100watt solar panels. The park first used the generator to show a film on June 7, 2019, and has used it pretty much ever since. The electric meter (grid) was disconnected in January of 2020. Divide the cost of the equipment by the money saved, and our payback on the system is one and a half years. After that, it is free energy!
Have you seen the park’s GEM car? It runs on nine 8volt gel batteries providing 72 volts of power. Clean, quiet, and no local emissions. But, how does our local grid electricity get generated? Well, that varies, but some of it comes from burning coal. Go solar again.
This time, the park opted to install a grid-tied system and “net zero” the GEM car. If we produce more electricity than the car uses to charge, then it is considered to be net zero. And the extra electricity doesn’t get wasted – it goes onto the grid and credits our meter with kilowatt hours, lessening our electric bill. Good timing – DCNR was providing Sustainability Micro-grants for worthy projects, and our GEM car net zero project was fully funded.
Again, the needed equipment was purchased and park staff did the install (one of our park staff is NEC certified in solar PV installation) on the south-facing roof of our maintenance building. The array was inspected by the local electric provider, and the switch was thrown connecting it to the grid. The four panel 1.2kw array provides more than enough power to offset any energy consumed by the GEM car.
The park actually got another Sustainability Micro-grant from DCNR to take our existing electric golf cart “Herbie” off-grid. A few different options were considered, but the best was simply bolting a 130watt solar panel on the roof of the cart and putting the 36volt boost charge controller under the seat. Herbie was the first EV (electric vehicle) purchased by PA State Parks back in 1996, and now is the second off-grid EV for the Bureau (our Kronosport was the first). Herbie will be used by our campground hosts (volunteers who occupy a “Host” campsite and provide information and emergency contact to campers “after hours”).
So, where does the park go from here with solar power? There are plans/feasibility studies for at least 23 more solar installations in DCNR in the coming years to meet the goal of getting 50% of our energy from green sources by 2030. Perhaps the next net zero will be … the park.
About the Author: Eric Rensel is a Natural Resource Specialist at Parker Dam State Park in northern Clearfield County.
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