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Dec 28, 2011 07:58AM

Schuetzen solar: Energy installation brings 19th century park into the future

By Kory Darnall
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For years I've tried to imagine what Schuetzen Park in Davenport was like when it first opened in June of 1870. Located in what was then "a wilderness on the outskirts of civilization," the site was chosen for its natural upland forest beauty. The park's early motto deemed it "One of Nature's Fairest Spots." Little has changed in this respect. The original use for the park as a place for shooting sports, however, has long ceased. Today, the nonprofit Schuetzenpark Gilde maintains the site primarily as a "Naturpark," and it strives to do so in a manner that preserves the park's natural qualities and advances the values of its original founders.

Some parts of the park have followed the march of time. In terms of energy use, the park initially relied upon wood and coal for heat. Kerosene and then gas were used for lighting its shooting galleries, inn, dance hall, and refreshment stands. Around 1895, municipal electricity was extended to the park to light its majestic Moorish style-music pavilion, to power its four-story wooden roller coaster, and, a bit later, to illuminate the colored lights on its iconic street-car waiting station, which still stands today.

The park's heavily-forested 25 acres, surrounded by urban development, help soak up the carbon emissions that are created by many conventional energy production methods. The Gilde is determined not to add to those emissions. When considering current options for providing electricity for the park, the Gilde studied alternatives such as wind, an onsite generator powered by gas or natural gas, or a connection to the public power grid. Since more than sufficient sunlight would be present at the site the year round, solar was determined to be the best option for the park's energy needs.

To help install the solar panels on the park's main structure, the Jens Lorenzen Pavilion, a group of students from the Eastern Iowa Community College's renewable energy program spent a week working at the park. "There is no substitute for hands-on learning, especially when every project is unique. Each project teaches us how to deal with unforeseen obstacles, which is something you can't get out of a book," explained Steve Harfst, team leader for the project.

In advance of the system's installation, the students (all of whom are training to become energy-system specialists) spent hours meeting with the park board to understand the energy needs of the site. The final configuration of the system consists of six 205-watt solar collectors on the pavilion's roof. They produce a total of 1,230 watts of energy during peak hours on sunny days. This energy can then be stored in eight deep-cycle batteries that will provide energy to meet the park's electricity needs for up to three days, or 360 amp hours, even if a ray of sunshine never hits the collectors.

As part of the project, the pavilion's incandescent bulbs have been replaced by low-wattage LED bulbs, and appliances have been selected for higher Energy Star ratings. A supplemental gas generator will only kick in to recharge the batteries during periods of extended darkness, or when the power demands during large events exceed the energy stored in the batteries.

The students will return to the site in the months ahead to evaluate the system's efficiency and to complete further calibration. Future students may also come to the site to study the system. While some may still need convincing that solar will ever become a viable alternative to conventional energy sources, Harfst is convinced that "as conventional sources of energy become more expensive or depleted, solar will, and has, become more economically feasible." Harfst sees alternative energy sources such as solar as "the wave of the future."

Aside from the project's energy-producing benefits, the venture has saved significant park and community resources by avoiding power line installation and monthly service fees from conventional energy sources. Although the park's energy needs are significantly different than they were a century ago, so too is the overall character and usage of the park. In the early 1900s, as many as 12,000 people would flock to Schuetzen park on a single day for huge music and athletic festivals, while today, smaller, more interment events are held there. Although the system is probably a bit larger than what is needed currently, it does provide for future growth.

The solar installation at Schuetzen Park was made possible through grants from the Doris and Victor Day Foundation and the Scott County Solid Waste Commission, along with additional financial and technical assistance from Eastern Iowa Community Colleges.

View Schuetzen Park in a larger map
Kory Darnall is president of the Schuetzenpark Gilde.


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