US National Parks led the charge for solar power in 1995


Shark week has passed, get ready now for park week. National Geographic kicks off its first annual US National Parks Week event from August 29 to September 2, making it a great time to learn about the National Parks Service’s renewable energy initiatives. Did you know that NPS made solar energy in the 1990s?

US national parks

Before we get into the solar energy angle, let’s take a look at the new US national parks series, which is the kick-off event for a whole series of programs for the first annual US National Parks Week. The first episode takes place on National Geographic TV Monday night and streaming on Disney+.

Executive producer Anwar Mamon of Wildstar Films is described as “a tech nerd who enjoys finding inventive ways to use cameras and raise the bar for visual storytelling”, while making an emotional connection with wildlife and its places.

This approach emerged from an interview that Mamon gave to Clean Technica earlier this month (following remarks slightly edited for clarity and flow).

My my : We are extremely fortunate to do our job, and in the parks in particular, our teams have really gotten to know the parks in all seasons. We got to know the animals as they transformed from baby to adult. What emerges from the series is a real intimacy and a deeper insight into public parks.

Clean Technica: What was the biggest challenge of filming the series?

My my : All natural history series are about overcoming challenges. Wildlife never reads a script. You have to be ready for anything and put luck on your side by working with the experts.

Technology is increasingly giving us the edge. It opens up different facets of the natural world that we couldn’t film before.

For example, at Big Bend National Park, we filmed Mexican long-nosed bats. They flock to the agave to feed on nectar at night, and only sporadically throughout the year. We used the latest night camera technology to capture their feeding, to see the amazing way they access nectar and how the symbiotic relationship works.

Clean Technica: Do you have a special park? [in the series]?

My my : All parks are very special. All have something different to offer, and for an American they have different cultural implications.

The Grand Canyon is the closest thing to a religious experience. We were lucky enough to film the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, there for the PSA on free entry to parks for military families. She had never been there before and it was good to see her reaction.

Solar Power and the Grand Canyon

This brings us to the pioneering role of the National Park Service in the field of solar energy.

The NPS Visitor Center in Hans Flat, Utah is the first example of solar power we could find in national parks. The photovoltaic generator on the roof started in November 1995.

Among the parks featured in the National Geographic series, the Grand Canyon was also at the center of early federal solar energy projects. On May 12, 2009, the National Parks Service held a public event to commemorate a new photovoltaic system on the roof of the NPS Visitor’s Center.

The amount of solar power produced by the generator was tiny by today’s standards, but NPS had this to say about their impact:

“The panels will also provide a unique opportunity for the 4.5 million visitors to the Grand Canyon each year to learn about this clean energy alternative. An exhibit inside the Visitor Center and signage next to deck-mounted panels will educate visitors about the mechanics of solar energy and how Arizona’s abundant sunshine could make of the state the solar capital of the world.

They certainly hit the nail on the head. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Arizona currently ranks 5th out of 50 states in installed solar capacity, and the state is approaching the 10% mark for the percentage of electricity generated from solar energy. ‘solar energy.

More solar power for more national parks

Other parks featured in America’s National Parks series also jumped on the solar power bandwagon during the early years of the solar power revolution.

Badlands National Park, for example, got a hybrid solar and wind power system in 2010, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Lakota Times quoted park superintendent Eric Brunnemann as saying, “This is an exciting project that fully supports the National Park Service’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by investing in new technology.

In 2011, NPS launched what was then its largest solar energy project in Yosemite National Park, a 672 kilowatt array of 2,800 solar panels. “The park estimates that it saves approximately $50,000 annually on electricity purchased off-grid and expects to receive a $700,000 energy rebate from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) over the next five years,” said explained NPS.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is distinguished by a nut soup sustainability program that includes water conservation and waste management, recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 with a Regional Overall Achievement Award in the Federal Green Challenge. The park’s emergency visitor operation opened in 2011 with LEED Platinum certification by the US Green Building Council and a photovoltaic array.

National Parks and Military Families

In case you were wondering why the Mamon crew was filming Dr. Jill Biden at the Grand Canyon, it’s because Dr. Biden introduces every part of the new series with a message about every park.

Given Dr. Biden’s advocacy for military families, this is also a good opportunity to remind everyone that the National Park Service offers free lifetime access to Gold Star families, veterans and current members of the armed forces. and their dependents, covering more than 2,000 federal states of recreation areas including wildlife refuges and forests as well as national parks.

The military connection is interesting from a cleantech perspective, as the US Department of Defense played a key role in supporting early large-scale developments in the solar energy industry, in addition to promoting solar panels. portable and transportable photovoltaics as well as many other decarbonization initiatives. and fundamental research too.

The DOD also issued a clear warning about climate change as the top national security threat in 2010. The political winds were not behind them then, but resistance is crumbling as the future impacts of the climate change are becoming today’s reality.

The recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act provides the National Park Service with $1 billion in climate adaptation funding, which is a good start.

Also for the record, the National Park Service was established in 1916 and celebrates its anniversary on August 25 each year. They also hold the official NPS week every April, so that’s something to look forward to after US National Parks Week ends.

follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Solar Power at Bryce Canyon National Park (Credit: NPS Photo).


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