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Solar Thermal Fire Stations (are kind of like schools)

By Glen Kizer

This title to this blog story will come as no surprise to anyone who I have talked to for more than 5 minutes over the past two years.  First of all, a little bit of background.  Of course, I love solar school projects because solar school projects are the ultimate multi-task educational platform.

Solar electricity on a school provides:
•    A teaching tool for students learning about energy, electricity, renewable energy, math and science.  In some schools they use the solar and the sun to involve art and art history, mythology, and religion.  The kids get to see the live data and do spreadsheets and projections, and play with their numbers from their solar electricity system rather than be limited to someone else’s numbers on someone else’s project.

•    A working model to introduce school administration officials and local community leaders to solar electricity.  If a school building in your community has a 1 kW PV system, you can use the data from that 1 kW and multiply it by 10 or 20 or 50 or 150 to determine how much electricity you would get from a larger system in that same neighborhood.  You do not have to look at a map and guess because you have a working 1 kW model in your neighborhood providing you with current data.

•    It does generate electricity from sunlight so it does reduce pollution if only in small amounts.

•    It also helps for everyone to see the panels and to get used to them generating electricity in their community.

Now a solar thermal fire station that takes the heat of the sun (not the sunlight itself) and heats water for use in cooking and cleaning and washing at the firehouse seems totally removed from a solar electricity system on a school building.  They seem to be apples and oranges…solar electricity and solar thermal heating.  But here is what I have been arguing to anyone who would listen: Solar thermal fire stations are as close as we will ever get to solar electricity schools.

Here are my reasons:
•    Fire stations like schools are in almost every neighborhood in the United States.  Every group of homes needs a school and a fire station.

•    Kids learn in schools and schools take their students to fire stations to learn about fires and fire trucks and carbon monoxide and a long list of things that can now include solar energy.

•    Most solar school projects have on line data so students can compare the electricity generation in Columbus, Ohio with Fresno, California and Apple River, Illinois and Houston, Texas.  Now solar thermal fire station projects will also include on line data so students will be able to compare the heat generated on the fire station on their street with the fire stations in other locations that also have these solar thermal water heating systems on their rooftops.

•    We make sure that solar schools install solar electricity panels that are visible from the school grounds.  Solar thermal water-heating systems must be angled up to catch the winter sun so they are almost always visible from the grounds of the fire stations.

•    Fire stations are run by Fire Chiefs and Principals operate schools and both fire chiefs and school principals are no nonsense people who can be very persuasive. There are so many solar schools around the world because school principals want them and it is hard to say no to a school principal.  There can now be a lot of solar thermal fire stations because fire chiefs are as close as you can get to a school principle as anyone.  Fire chiefs are tough and demanding and if they can be provided proof the economics are positive then I doubt you will find many city budget directors telling them they can’t do it.

So I am excited about our first solar thermal fire station which just went in on a fire station in Richmond, California.  The first one was going to be on the Washington Township Fire Station at Hard Road and Riverside Drive in Dublin, Ohio, but that can be the second station.  I am sure that Denise Franz King of Washington Township will not care that she had to be second so long as she gets her system.

There will be a series of blog stories about this project and the data will be on all of our web sites and there will be a lot of pictures because it is the first one and we want everyone to understand why we created the project the way we did and why this makes it easier to replicate and how it all contributes to a positive economic spreadsheet.  Cities typically are down on money so we had to make these projects able to pay for themselves.  PG&E actually paid for the Richmond fire station project, but they did so in a way that enables us to build future projects based on the numbers from this one station.  And we owe Karalee Browne of PG&E a tremendous thanks for her vision and her leadership on this project. (By the time this goes on line she and Travis will have their second son-she is really about to deliver as I type this, and she visited the fire station on one of her last days prior to going on pregnancy leave, which shows you how much she supported this project).

All in all the news is good.  The pollution reduction numbers are excellent and they are local.  Less natural gas is burned inside any community where solar thermal water heating is taking place because less natural gas is actually burned in any building using solar thermal heating.  These are good projects and the first one is up and running.  In the next two months we will run a number of stories looking at this project from different perspectives because this is the model from which the rest will be built so understanding is the key.

More pix and the data link will be in the next blog story.  The fire station is Richmond Fire Station No. 68 on Bayview in Richmond.  The fire chief is Michael Banks. The system is Heliodyne, Inc. The installer is SunWater Solar, Inc.  Heliodyne and SunWater are both located In Richmond.  Do you see the connection between jobs and renewable energy?  If not, don’t worry you will.

One Response to “Solar Thermal Fire Stations (are kind of like schools)”

  1. Rhonda Beatty-Gallo Says:

    As a teacher, I totally see how fire stations are like schools! What I appreciate even more is the chance that everyone gets to see the solar panels at these sites and we all become not only used to these, but ask why they are not part of other school-like public places. Okay, you ask where? My first response is the public library, and the YMCA, the city pool, the post office… I also appreciate how easy the math can be with 1kW solar structures and the availability. This is some powerful learning going on! (Sorry, no pun intended!)

    I look forward to more of your blogging!

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