Facility Cuts Indoor Pool Heating Costs with Solar


The Facility

As Steve Billings will tell you, running the first coach-owned swim team in North Carolina doesn’t exactly come with an instruction manual.“Essentially, we built the plane first, and then had to learn how to fly it .”

Located just outside Charlotte, NC in the town of Huntersville, the 30,000square foot family-owned and operated NOMAD Aquatic Facility opened its doors in 1991. Inside sits a 25-yard by 25-meter competition pool, with a smaller instructional “warm pool” of 20- x 15-yards around the corner. The space is also shared by a fitness center and racquetball courts.

A longtime dream of Steve and wife Myra’s, NOMAD has grown over the past 21 years to be much more than just a home for the “Aqua Devils,” Coach Billings’ perennial powerhouse of a swim-team. With over 4,000total members, use of the pools range from full-blown competitive meets for the team’s 300-plus swimmers, to open swimming, to water aerobics.In addition, NOMAD hosts Learn-to-Swim classes for about 600 future Devils.

The Turning Point

For the Billings, heating the two indoor pools was a necessary evil.Though competition rules state pools must be maintained at just 79 degrees Fahrenheit,being indoors means neither pool receives any warmth from natural sunlight. For years, the cost of running their large natural gas heater was viewed as an unavoidable operating cost for NOMAD – just another expense on the balance sheet. But as energy prices skyrocketed, heating the pools with fossil fuel became increasingly expensive. “At their worst, our bill ran upwards of $12,000 every month,” recalls Steve. He knew there had to be a way to offset the cost of his existing heater.

After attending a presentation on solar pool heating, Steve started to see it as a good potential investment in his facility. “I would say I had some misconceptions as far as cost went, up till thatpoint. As I learned more about the technology, the investment seemed more and more like a no-brainer.” As if he didn’t have enough incentive to add solar, Steve learned the state of North Carolina offered a 35% tax credit on new commercial solar pool heater installations, which would reduce the payback period even further. For Steve and for NOMAD, thetime to act was now.

With his new understanding of cost and payback, Billings reached out to a local solar contractor. As is the case with most commercial bids, the contractor enlisted the assistance of the nearest Aquatherm Regional Distribution Center for technical support – including system sizing and pump-house schematics. Solar Services, Aquatherm’s Regional Distribution Center in Virginia Beach, was happy to help, and soon Steve Was presented with a proposal to install 169 4-foot by 12-foot SolarIndustries Collectors on the roof of the NOMAD facility.

The System

On average, commercial solar pool heating installations pay for themselves in approximately five-to-seven years. Taking into account existing heating costs at NOMAD, the $200,000 solar system was projected to pay for itself in less than half that time, thanks to the state tax credit and ability to sell solar renewable energy credits (SRECs)back to the state utility. SRECs represent the environmental attributes from a solar facility, and are produced each time a solar system produces one thousand Killowatt-hours (KWh)of production. In order to produce SRECs, a solar system must first be certified by state regulatory agencies – usually public service commissions or public utility commissions –before a state-authorized registry can create and track SRECs.

Next, since the output of solar thermal (heating) systems are measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs)rather than Killowatt-hours (as in solar electric systems),determining energy production is accomplished throughthe use of a BTU flow-meter. The system at NOMAD is fitted with an ISTEC® flow-meter, which measures the amount of BTUs (thermal energy) the solar system provides when operating.

With one kilowatt hour equivalent to 3,412 BTUs,and each one of the 169 solar collectors capable of producing 48,000 BTUs daily, the system has a daily production capacity of approximately 8 million BTUs(or 2,300 Kwh). Again, with an SREC awarded each time a solar system produces 1,000 Kwh, the system at NOMAD can produce over 50 SRECs every 4weeks in season.

The Savings

So what’s the bottom line? The SRECs produced by the NOMAD solar pool heating system translate to revenues of nearly $40,000 each and every year. For The Billings, whose investment has already paid for itself since its installation in 2007, have used the additional income from their SRECS to finance a supplementary wood-burning heater for use in the coldest months of the year. “We heat the pools using the solar almost exclusively most of the year, but when it starts dropping below freezing we can switch on the wood-burning heater when we need it,” says Billings, who decided to keep the original natural gas heater, albeit as purely a back up to his two main forms heating.

“It’s really about as simple as it gets,” says Steve of operating the system. “You just wouldn’t believe how well it works.”



Lawrence Welk Resort Goes Green


The Facility

For nearly 30 years, Lawrence Welk entertained audiences nightly with his musical variety hour, The Lawrence Welk Show. Known as “Television’s Music Man,” Welk – a skilled musician, accordionist, and bandleader – passed away in 1992. Aside from his entertainment industry legacy, he also left behind a resort community just north of San Diego, California called The Welk Resort and Champagne Village.

Developed by Welk and promoted heavily by him on the show, the Village was where Welk lived for much of his life. Today the resort, which is open to the public, sits on 450 acres and contains dozens of upscale timeshares, two golf courses, and eight large swimming pools complete with water slides and features.

Even in sunny southern California, most commercial swimming pools still require heating to keep guests swimming happily. In the case of The Welk Resort’s eight year-round pools, a propane heater is used to keep the large bodies of water up to a comfortable temperature.

The Turning Point

According to Dave Peterson of Watershapes Consulting, Inc., the aquatic engineering design firm that built several of property’s more recent swimming pools, The Welk Resort has always been deeply interested in all things “green” and eco-friendly. In fact, many of the buildings on the property already utilized solar electric and hot water heating systems.

“The management at the Welk Resort was well aware of using solar as an alternative to the costly propane heaters, but installing a solar pool heater came down to an issue of appropriating capital for the expense,” explained Peterson.

It was 2010 before the resort was ready to make their first push toward solar heating and brought in Watershapes as a consultant on the system. In turn, Peterson reached out to his “go-to solar contractor,” Mark Naylor of Mark Naylor Solar Specialists in San Diego. Naylor, an Aquatherm Platinum Solar Industries Master Dealer, and Peterson have a long history of successful solar pool heating projects between them.

The System

With eight large swimming pools on property, upfront costs to add solar to all of them at once would have been cost-prohibitive. Instead, the Welk Resort decided to install a solar heating system on their largest pool first, and address the others as funds became available.

At 6,592 square feet of swimming pool surface area, Naylor and Peterson agreed on a proposed system of 128 4’x12’ Solar Industries collectors – for a total solar surface area of 6,144 square feet (93% coverage). Since the system was to be split between two nearby buildings, the Welk Resort decided to have it installed in two phases – the first of which was completed in 2010, and the second phase completed in 2012.


128 4’x12’ collectors – a total solar surface area of 6,144 square feet (93% coverage).

With a year-round guest list, closing down the pool for the installation was not an attractive option for the resort. Instead, Naylor and Peterson utilized an existing surge tank, which is fed by way of a 479 foot gutter around the perimeter of the pool. By adding a secondary pump and filter, then diverting flow from the surge tank to the solar collectors, the installers were able to complete both phases of the project without closing the pool. The existing propane boilers will remain, and can be used as a backup heater if necessary.


The resort’s solar pool heating system was split between two nearby buildings.


The design proposed by Naylor and Peterson resulted in a 93% coverage, based on the pool’s surface area.

According to Dave Peterson of Watershapes, the Welk Resort plans to eventually add solar heating systems to the rest of the property’s pools as funds become available. With the recent passing of AB2249 in California, which adds commercial  pool  heating to the existing CSI-Thermal rebate, that could happen sooner than later. Mark Naylor says the rebate is definitely something he will be promoting this year. “Reducing the upfront cost of system installation through the rebate will go a long way toward properties like Welk being able to utilize solar pool heating.”


Eglin Air Force Base Saves $24,000 with Solar Pool Heater

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.

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