Creating Power at Zion National Park...Sustainably

Zion National Park, which receives quite a bit of sunshine throughout the year, is turning more of those glorious rays into energy to help reduce the park's carbon footprint.

An 85-kilowatt hour solar panel system now is providing energy to the park headquarters, the Zion Human History Museum, and the Emergency Operations Center, said Superintendent Jock Whitworth.

"This system will produce renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gasses and significantly save utility costs, allowing us to move forward with one of our top priorities, which is to improve our sustainability by continued reduction of our carbon footprint," said the superintendent.

The electricity produced will be approximately 15,810 kWh/month, or 189,720 kWh/year. To put this in perspective, the average American house uses 920 kWh/month, or 11,040 kWh/year, according to Zion officials. In other words, this solar power system could produce enough energy to power around 17 homes annually.

Along with a solar system already in place, this will make the park Emergency Operations Center virtually a net-zero energy building, meaning about equal amounts of electricity will be supplied to the electric grid as will be consumed by the building, a park release said. The system will also produce 30 percent of the electricity for the headquarters building and the Zion Human History Museum, and save 40 percent on demand charges from the utility company. The system should produce energy for at least 20 years.

Solar panel arrays for the system have been installed as prefabricated shade structures at the headquarters employee parking area. The shade structures with photovoltaic panel coverings will provide power to the building and shade for vehicles. The shade will also diminish the reflected heat from the pavement, thereby reducing the temperature near the building. There are electrical charging stations built into the structure for current and future electric vehicles. The park has plans to acquire a fleet of electric vehicles that will be independent of fossil fuel energy sources.

By using renewable energy instead of energy derived from coal fired power plants, Zion is reducing its carbon footprint by 172.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent weight of 190 school buses. With the other projects in the works, including a new 7 kWh system just installed at the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, the park will produce 110 kWh of renewable electric energy within a year. In addition to producing renewable electricity, park-wide energy consumption is down 24 percent in the last three years from conservation alone.

The project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. For more information on sustainable projects in Zion National Park and ways you can save energy, visit the park website at www.nps.gov/zion/naturescience/sustainability-in-zion.htm.