Operation: Swim Warm
At Eglin Air Force Base in Valparaiso, FL, the nearly 14,000 square foot pool is used for recruit training and exercise, as well as recreation and leisure for those stationed at the base and their families. But for facility operators, the cost of keeping the pool warm enough to use was costing the base upwards of several thousand dollars each month. Solar thermal was proposed as the most cost-effective alternative to the existing gas-powered boiler, and an invitation to bid went out.
Sean Gardner, owner of Compass Solar in Pensacola, FL, has been selling and installing the Ecosun Solar Pool Heating System in the Florida panhandle for over 10 years, with a number of large commercial projects under his belt. Sean’s experience and dedication to quality has helped him achieve the elite distinction of becoming an Ecosun Master Dealer. Though the Eglin installation would be his largest to date, Sean eagerly threw his hat in the ring for the project.
Sean explained to facility operators how his proposed design – an array of 164 black polypropylene collectors (often referred to as panels) – could dramatically reduce their operating costs by harnessing the sun’s free energy. Each collector is divided into just over 100 small tubes that water runs directly through. As the pool water circulates through the collectors, over 1,000 BTUs of thermal energy per square foot are absorbed by the water before returning to the pool.
Based on Sean’s comprehensive payback analysis and experience, Compass Solar was awarded the bid. The collectors were mounted on eight custom all-aluminum ground racks adjacent to the pool, ranging in size from 52’ long to as long as 104’ long. The racks were then anchored by 160 2’ x 4’ concrete footers poured using round forms. Thanks to Ecosun’s highest-rated vented solar pool heating collector design, the system can withstand 140 mile-per-hour winds of three second gusts.
With the housing market stagnant and new pool construction still down, there has been a natural shift in most Dealers’ markets toward larger commercial pools and aquatic facilities. “This was definitely the largest solar pool heating project we had ever taken on,” says Sean, “but thanks to my crew and everyone involved, it was also one of the most fun.”
When operational, the solar array is capable of heating over 650 gallons of pool water, per minute. The system is expected to generate 5.9 million BTUs daily, offsetting approximately 1.7 Megawatts daily. Capable of consistently providing temperatures of 85 to 95 degrees from March to December, the system can be adjusted by raising or lowering a thermostat-style knob. The collectors will be drained during the colder months to prevent freezing, and the existing gas-powered boiler will handle the heating load.
“The goal of the $177,175 project is to reduce gas consumption and up-keep on the existing boiler,” according to Pablo Cruz, of the 96th Civil Engineer Group. “The solar pool heater is expected to save the base $24,000 per year and should pay for itself in approximately seven years.”
Eglin Air Force Base joins a growing number of military bases going solar in an attempt to reduce operating costs and go green. With an ongoing push by the United States government to go green, most military installations start with their biggest energy hogs – in many cases a swimming pool or aquatic training facility. Heating a pool with natural gas, propane, or electric by means of a conventional fossil-fuel heater consumes a massive amount of energy and can cost thousands of dollars a month to maintain a comfortable temperature.