Barcroft Energy Project

First draft – April 2004

Background The WMRS Barcroft Station is a unique research support facility owned and operated by the University of California. The station is located high in the White Mountains of California (at 12,500’ or 3800m above sea level). Currently the station supports several important areas of research, and is poised to host others in the near future. Among the station’s unique assets are accredited animal care facilities for raising animals at high elevation, an astronomical observatory dome on Barcroft Plateau (elevation 13,000’ or 3960m) and the White Mountain summit laboratory (at 14,250’ or 4345m); one of the highest-elevation research facilities in the world.
One crucial element of station operations at Barcroft is supplying the station with adequate energy to heat and illuminate the buildings, support research, and carry out household tasks such as pumping and heating water. The remoteness, high elevation and extreme cold pose additional challenges beyond those of many field stations. For example, combustion engines and heaters are usually not designed to operate at such low air pressures (around 640 millibars), and electronic equipment and batteries may suffer when exposed to sub-zero temperatures, day after day. At present the station’s energy needs are supplied with propane tanks, which operate the cook stove, and a 12 mile-long high voltage power line, which supplies all other energy needs. The current high voltage line was installed in the 1980’s, and includes a 5.5 mile long section of underground buried cable. Only two conductors were buried, limiting the station’s electrical supply to single-phase current.

Challenges The current energy situation at Barcroft is problematic for at least five reasons.
1. Electricity bills are very large. The bill for Barcroft and Crooked Creek totaled nearly $40,000 in 2002. We need to be able to meter electricity for each station separately, but at present this is not feasible with the equipment that we have.
2. The power delivery system is unreliable. In the winter of 2003-04, we lost power several times, including a 4-day outage during which the station ran on generator power until we could locate the fault (in deep snow, in the middle of the above-ground portion of the power line). In summer of 2002 we lost power when the buried line suffered a short circuit after receiving water damage. Reliable power is critical to the scientific aspects of running the station, and in winter, for safety.
3. There are certain users of the station who require 3-phase current. This is not available from the power company owing to the lack of a third conductor in the buried power cable.
4. The power distribution system from the buried power lines run independently to five distribution points: south huts, small animal building, main building, dog building, and observatory dome. Running power from the main station out to these points is not currently supported.
5. The station is operating under severe budget cuts (25% predicted for 2004-05) and we must spend our limited resources carefully so as to maximize benefit to the station. We have a $50,000 interest-earning endowment for Barcroft which we are reluctant to tap into, but could be used if critically necessary. There seems to be a potential for cost savings if we can reduce our energy bill, but getting to that point requires some initial capital improvement.

Opportunities The WMRS Barcroft station presents some unusual opportunities for investment in energy infrastructure.
1. As discussed above, the cost of conventional power is very high, so that investments which reduce monthly electric bills can pay for themselves relatively rapidly.
2. The site receives intense solar radiation on clear days (for example 0.98 Kw/m2 on 4-9-04), owing to the thin atmosphere, increasing the efficiency of solar electric and solar heating panels. A nearby site (observatory dome) is also quite windy, making it suitable for operation of a wind turbine.
3. The shape and orientation of the main building is potentially well-designed for heat retention, with a membrane-sealed Quonset hut roof design that minimizes surface area. For example, the original main building presented about 7000 square foot of surface to the outside air, yet enclosed nearly 7000 square feet of floor space.
Need for Strategy WMRS needs to develop a strategy for correcting its energy problems, taking advantage of the opportunities listed above. One great resource that we have is a talented and dedicated staff, as well as the knowledge resources of the University and the greater community. For example, research and technical groups within and outside the University see the station as a possible test site for innovative alternative energy installations. In 2003 the station hosted an alternative energy symposium at Barcroft which drew tremendous interest from alternative energy visionaries from all over the world. In addition, the National Fuel Cell Research Center at UC Irvine plans a field trip to the station this June.
The station also needs an in-house energy strategy, both to make best use of outside help, as well as to make decisions about infrastructure improvements and repairs. As we replace and repair appliances, we should chose those which will supplement and be compatible with future energy systems, rather than, for example, increase our reliance on the current electrical delivery system. We should also experiment with alternatives, adapting technologies to operate at high elevation and determining what is practical. The strategy is to keep the station running smoothly, making intelligent investments of time, materials and equipment, while staying focused on the goal of providing clean, reliable energy at reduced cost.
This document aims toward developing these strategies, outlining what needs to be done, and suggesting initial steps to be taken.

Immediate Steps
1. We need to inventory the current and projected energy needs for the station, along with relevant data on building dimensions and insulation, environmental parameters, etc. We need to consider siting for hot water storage tanks, potential location for solar panels, methods for distributing hot air or hot water, etc. We should also consider systems for shutting down parts of the building when not in use. An Energy Assessment document is being prepared which incorporates these kinds of information (see attachments 1 and 2).
2. Immediate steps should be taken to weather proof and insulate the buildings against heat loss. We estimate that 75% or more of the current electrical consumption is for space heating, and the building contains old windows, poorly sealed doorways, and some open air ways which need to be weatherproofed.
3. One option for decreasing dependence on the outside electrical supply and moving toward solar water heating is to investigate propane for water heating and space heating. Propane appliances are not rated for such low atmospheric pressures so we need to take a trial and error method using borrowed units and testing their efficiency at Barcroft.
4. Barcroft currently has one aged turbocharged diesel generator to supply backup power. We need another backup generator. Both should be wired to produce 3-phase current as needed by certain scientific experiments, yet still be able to power the station when the outside power goes down.
5. We need to install wiring, switches, etc. for getting power from the Barcroft main building out to the outlying structures, including the observatory dome. One possible solution is to use the existing wiring system with appropriate switches, transformers, etc. Another is to trench and install new wiring. The latter would be quite difficult in the case of the observatory dome, as it is located nearly ½ mile away across a very rocky landscape.
6. We need to be able to begin metering power consumption at the station, for the station as a whole as well as for individual units. We should also attempt to determine if there is power loss along the buried cable.
7. As soon as preliminary inventory data are ready, experienced consultants should be brought to the station and involved in the project. We need input from contractors and architects who have successfully installed backup and alternative energy systems for homes and businesses. This is not just an engineering problem, but one of practical experience under unusual conditions of building design and ambient conditions. Solar heating (via fluid-filled panels) should be investigated, as this is a proven technology for storing low-grade energy which can be used to heat the building. Battery – inverter systems should also be considered for running core functions such as communications, core living functions, and core scientific systems such as weather monitoring equipment and uninterruptible scientific functions.
8. After gathering as much inventorial and expert information as possible, we should host a planning meeting in which we bring everyone together to summarize and discuss options., and to prepare proposals for submission to funding agencies and foundations. See contact list (attachment 3).
Other sites Although the Barcroft Station has the most critical energy needs from both a safety and a programmatic point of view, the other WMRS stations could benefit from energy infrastructure improvements. The Crooked Creek station, located at 10,200’ (3100m) in the White Mountains, has many of the same energy challenges and opportunities as Barcroft. The Owens Valley Laboratory, located at 4000’ (1220m), just outside of the city of Bishop, could also make improvements which might reduce annual electricity costs. What we learn from the improvements at Barcroft should help us manage and improve these other sites.

Funding sources We need to develop funding sources for these projects.

1. In-house funds are limited, as we continue to endure substantial budget cuts to our program as well as steady, if not declining, income from station users. Nevertheless, as we repair and replace equipment, we hope to make choices consistent with our energy improvement strategy. For example, as we replace a broken appliances, we should consider energy efficient units which cost more initially, but which pay for themselves over time in reduced energy consumption. In addition, we plan to devote staff time to certain improvements such as energy inventory, improving building insulation and experimenting with propane water heating and space heating (steps 1-3). These are primarily low cost, incremental improvements which should yield a payoff in terms of reduced electric bills.
2. We have a $50,000 interest-earning endowment (the Nello Pace fund) for Barcroft which we are reluctant to tap into, but which could be used at a criticallytime.
3. Implementing most of the items 1-7 above will require additional funding. We are investigating research support funds for improving generator and distribution capacity (steps 4 and 5). We also plan to seek money to bring in consultants and host planning sessions (steps 7 and 8). Ultimately we hope to obtain funding from private donors. We have been working with UCOP development advisor Dan Aldridge and plan to involve the UCSD development office as well. We also plan to apply for funds from the NSF Field Stations and Marine Labs Facilities Improvement Program. Funding sources such as these will be essential if are to implement the full scope of the project.

Attachment 1
Barcroft Energy Assessment
First Draft (April 2004)

In summer 2003 we began to assess energy requirements, resources and limitations for the Barcroft facility of the University of California White Mountain Research Station. Using a floor plan for the buildings, we assigned room numbers for most of the facilities, and attempted to list energy needs and appliances for each room. We also began listing limitations and other problems with the facilities and energy infrastructure. We are beginning to assemble these items into an infrastructure database and GIS system which can be used as a planning and operations tool.

Initial Assessment April 2004

Although we are still accumulating detailed data, it has become very clear that electric space heating is by far the greatest drain on electrical consumption at Barcroft – perhaps as much as 90%. Our greatest imperative is to improve insulation and to begin heating the building with low grade heat sources such as solar collectors, generator waste heat, and propane. We need to investigate heating rooms with hot water, as this is probably the only efficient way to store and distribute low grade heat through the night. Self-contained wall mounted heaters with thermostats and pumps are available which only require a source of hot water to operate. These could be installed in all rooms, and supplied from a large insulated tank. The water in the tank could then be heated by a variety of sources, possibly including solar collectors, generator waste heat, propane, or excess electrical generation.

A second major consumer of electricity is refrigeration, primarily for food storage. The station uses a walk-in refrigerator as well as 4 other conventional refrigerators and freezers. One improvement would be remove the heat exchange unit for the walk-in outside the heated pantry room to a cold shed. Another would be to build a passive cold storage shed which, at the average ambient summer temperature of less than 10 degees C should be enough to serve as a cold room for most food items. Another improvement would be to replace the conventional older freezers and refrigerators with sunfrost units or something comparable. Although initially expensive, a sunfrost freezer draws only 60 watts, and cycles on only about 10% of the time.

A third major consumer is electric lighting. The station is currently provided with conventional commercial-grade fluorescent lighting. Although fluorescent lighting is more efficient than incandescent lighting, it has several drawbacks at Barcroft. Fluorescent lights do not work well at cold temperatures unless high-output units are installed; parts of the station need to be retrofitted with high-output ballasts and bulbs. Another drawback is that turning on the wall-mounted light switch automatically lights the entire room, drawing 2-300 watts of power depending on the number of units in the ceiling. This does not allow for spot illumination of parts of the room being used, such as for example, a desk, computer and reading lamp. Retrofitting a system of track lights, with entryway wall switches, can help solve this problem. Two 15 watt track lights (using compact fluorescent bulbs) are sufficient for lighting an office desk, or a kitchen sink and stove. The ceiling illumination should be used only when needed. All lighting should be put on a timer or motion sensor so that it shuts off when not in use.
Another significant electrical consumption is hot water for dishwashing, handwashing, showers, etc. The electric water heaters may be able to be replaced with either on-demand water heaters or conventional gas powered water heaters, in either case powered by propane.

Our computer network and communications devices, including cellular phones, satellite modems, switches, hubs, and wireless radios must operate continuously to maintain internet access for the station. As these are the backbone of scientific operations for the station, we should develop UPS or some other power solution that allows them to operate independently of other power issues at the station. An independent solar photovoltaic-battery-inverter system for these devices may be the best solution, as these units typically draw very little power.
Computers are a significant power drain for the station as well. Station staff can turn some computers off when not in use, but many station researchers use computers for unattended monitoring and data collection.

This brings up the issue of research consumption. Unlike staff, whose job duties include energy monitoring and conservation, researchers generally have different priorities such as convenience, reliability and unattended operation. It becomes essential that we develop the ability to meter energy consumption by researchers, and then to charge them a proportional fee.

We need to develop an electrical energy metering system for the station. It may be possible to install individual pass-through meters in each room outlet, using the existing 110 VAC wiring system for communicating consumption to a computer or dedicated metering unit.